Higley eighth-grader Josh Truax had never performed in a play before he was cast as Mayor Shinn in the San Tan Elementary School’s production of “The Music Man Junior.”
The shy 13-year-old had to sing and dance in a group, and was “extremely” nervous about performing and memorizing his lines, said his mom, Shelli Truax.
Despite a “huge” case of stage fright right before the first performance Nov. 29 at the Higley Center for the Performing Arts, Josh was able to overcome his fear, remember his lines and had no problems before the second performance the next night, his mom said.
“He was fantastic,” Truax said. “I think that it gave all the kids self-confidence and bravery to try something new and step out of the box. I think for him it was great working with different people.”
As local schools put on dozens of performances around this time of year, regular students not involved in advanced theater, music or choir programs are singing, acting and performing in front of their families, friends and the community, some for the first time.
Through the performances, the importance of showing up on time, and the skills needed to talk in front of a large group, local educators said.
It’s the skills needed for life, to do well in future interviews and public speaking endeavors, said Tara Kissane, the director of visual and performing arts for the Higley Unified School District.
“Any time you’re putting yourself out there in front of an audience, you need to draw upon those skills you’ve learned in your early educated years,” Kissane said. “It kind of opens up some kids. It gives them an opportunity to succeed. That’s huge.”
Parents and family members are also getting the chance to see the fruits of their child’s labor, she said.
“It’s giving the children a performing experience, a chance to stand up in front of people, to look nice, to have that kind of eye contact and to be recognized for something they’ve worked really hard to put together,” Kissane said. “There’s great value to that.”
At Spectrum Elementary School in Gilbert, about 80 third-graders put on a musical performance Dec. 12 that incorporated multimedia presentations and social studies curriculum, said Lisa LaMonica, the general music teacher for Spectrum, a school in the Gilbert Unified School District.
The original play, “Vacation Across the Nation,” had integrated special needs students performing along with typically developing third-graders. About 15 fifth- and sixth-graders also worked behind the scenes helping to put the production together.
“It’s so important that we have opportunities both with general music class and with a group of students with a primary focus,” LaMonica said. “You find the performances come out at different levels.”
The performance was a chance to incorporate different aspects of what the students were learning, and to give the kids an opportunity to see what a performance is, LaMonica said.
“We are using all the skills we’ve been working so hard to learn,” said LaMonica, who helped write the script. “In our classroom the performance is a final assessment for all the efforts that we’ve been putting in.”
The performances can bring out interests in students they never knew they had.
Budding musicians, actors, singers and directors are born.
“We have a special opportunity for children to be involved and find something in education that’s important for them and keeps them motivated so they can go on in adulthood,” LaMonica said.
“I feel it is a way to take something that maybe students don’t have a great interest in or motivation in and give them a new way to look at that so that it boosts the interest in that subject area, as well as keeping an interest in music,” she added.
Finding any way to keep kids interested in school could make a difference for the rest of their lives.
“We feel that the arts levels the playing field for all students,” Kissane said. “Students who might not excel in other areas of the curriculum, certainly can excel in the arts.”