Blog Archives

Star For A Day: It’s About The Process

What is Star For A Day (SFAD) and why do we do it? Great question! SFAD is challenging, energizing, scary, exciting, fun, funny, creative, silly, serious, educational, enlightening, exhilarating. I could sit here for another hour and not run out of words to describe SFAD. And if you asked me to sum up why I do it, I could answer with any of those words.

I have taught musical theatre camps for many years – camps that ran anywhere from one week to four weeks. And they’re amazing. Sometimes it’s working on individual pieces to perform in a showcase at the end. Sometimes it’s putting together a full-blown Broadway musical in a short period of time. No matter what the final product is, my favorite part is always the process. I love challenging students to try something they’ve never done, to think outside the box, to create and feel safe doing it, to explore and experiment and discover.

The first time I was asked to teach SFAD, I was a little bit terrified. Keep in mind that musical theatre includes singing, dancing and acting. How on earth were we going to pull off learning two songs in a class that lasted less than a couple hours? Then, send those students to other classes, including improv and dance, before coming together to combine everything we learned – sometimes hours earlier in the day. I quickly discovered some tricks to help me the next time. But more importantly, I discovered the thrill of fully immersing yourself into an 8-hour day and creating something magical.

Some skills I’ve watched students learn and/or use throughout the day:

  • Focus
  • Problem-solving
  • Critical thinking
  • Creativity
  • Collaboration
  • Time management
  • Attention to detail

Some things I’ve learned along the way:

  • Memorizing quickly with little time for repetition is hard. But kids are creative and they’ll figure out tricks to make it work.
  • Dance steps don’t have to be super hard to be tight and polished and effective.
  • Watching students problem-solve when something doesn’t work out is amazing.
  • Costumes can be simple or complex as long as we bring our imagination along.
  • Flexibility is key, especially when doing two group numbers. Sometimes you realize by the third group that another plan would have worked better. You know what? The kids can and will adapt like rock stars.
  • Working with others on a common goal is simply life-giving.

All of this makes me look forward to the next time I get to teach SFAD. All year round, I keep a running list of possible songs in my file cabinet. I look for pieces with repetition, pieces that can be split between groups, pieces that don’t require a gender or an age to be successful, pieces that allow for simple costuming from their closets, pieces that will push them, pieces that will guarantee success, pieces that will be worth learning – even if only for a day.

One last benefit to SFAD that needs to be mentioned: Working together so intensely helps create relationships. It breaks down barriers that we might have chosen to build. It forces us to see gifts in others we might not have taken the time to see. It builds friendships and trust and camaraderie and joy.

So why SFAD? Because it’s challenging, energizing, scary, exciting, fun, funny, creative, silly, serious, educational, enlightening and exhilarating.


Anne Van Deusen

Musical Madness Instructor

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What Do Students Learn From Arts Education?

In 1997, a longitudinal study was initiated to determine the impact of the arts on the lives of the participants. In this study, more than 25,000 students were evaluated over a course of ten years through high school. Those students with consistent participation in theatre arts consistently showed improved academic performance and significant increases in standardized test scores. In a 2013 article in the Washington Post by Lisa Phillips, the top skills children learn from the arts was discussed. They included the following:

Creativity – lean to approach tasks from different perspectives and to “think outside the box”

Confidence – build the confidence to perform in front of large audiences

Problem Solving – develop skills in reasoning and understanding

Perseverance – learning skills and techniques through practice; developing new skills

Focus – maintaining a balance between listening and contributing; improve concentration

Collaboration – practice working together for a common goal

Dedication – associate hard work and dedication with a sense of accomplishment

Accountability – learn that their actions affect other people; Gain a sense of responsibility

Receiving Constructive Feedback – learn that critique is a valuable experience and contributes to the success of the final piece

An arts educator with over 16 years’ experience, Lisa’s comments were driven by a concern over an obsession with science, math, technology and engineering in our school systems at the risk of losing art education and the skills that come from it. I think she makes a valid point. Our community theaters are more than just an entertainment venue; they offer a tremendous benefit for personal growth. Perhaps you know of someone who has or may benefit from active participation in the theatre. Reach out and get involved!

sommers-diane-2015Diane Sommers

Community Partners Coordinator

The View from the Pit

I love live theatre, especially musical theatre! I love getting to the final product and knowing all the weeks of hard work that were put into that performance. I love watching actors and singers learn, practice, grow, conquer, and create. I love working with musicians to build the musical foundation for the folks on stage. I love watching the collaboration between cast, crew, orchestra and audience. I love it all, because you need it all to bring a story to life.

All of this has happened at Waukesha Civic Theatre the past couple months to bring The Goodbye Girl to life on the stage. I am blessed to be the music director as well as one of the musicians in the pit. This show is orchestrated for 21 people, and we’re doing it with 8. That requires a lot of creativity with the instrument books and very talented and flexible players. Luckily, we’ve got all of that. The members of the orchestra have worked hard to create the proper blend to support the style of the music and give the performers and audience a full sound.

Add to the mix the fact that we’re playing in a room separate from the theatre space and you’ve got the recipe for an exciting adventure. Our 8-piece orchestra spends show time in a corner of the back studio. Each of us is mic’d and the sound is piped into the theatre. Monitors on stage help the actors hear what we’re playing, and monitors in our corner help us hear what’s happening on stage. In addition, our conductor has a video monitor to watch the action, as well as a head-set to communicate with our stage manager. The actors on stage get no visual cues from the conductor.

What makes a system like this work? TRUST, FOCUS, FLEXIBILITY. Every person has to trust that every other person will do his or her job. The actors, the orchestra, the stage manger, the sound technicians – we’ve all done our prep work to make the lines of trust work. Focus is also a huge piece. Because we can’t rely on visual cues when something goes wrong, we must stay focused on the present. Again, the key players in the game are aware of everything going on around them so that they’re ready to go at all times. And flexibility is a must. Every person has to be willing to adjust to anything and everything. Missed lines, set pieces that get stuck, a lengthy costume change, a dropped beat. Anything can happen. And it probably will, which just adds to the excitement.

It’s a bit crazy, I agree. But sooooo much fun! Knowing that we’re all invested in doing our part to give our audiences the very best we can makes it all work. We’re a great team, and we’re having the time of our lives! See you at the Theatre!

~Anne Van Deusen, Music Director