Franklin Sherman Elementary School has a long-standing tradition of hosting a sixth-grade play, but this year the tradition had a new element: Dallas Beach, who is the school’s new music teacher. Beach is in her first year at Franklin Sherman after teaching at the Nysmith School in Herndon.
“She’s jumped in with both feet,” Principal Dr. Vicki Duling said. “She’s always seeking to learn more and to provide more opportunities for the children.”
At Nysmith, Beach was working with all age groups, but her music theater class comprised seventh- and eighth-grade students. This year, her cast switched to 65 sixth-graders.
“Everybody auditioned,” Beach said, saying that during the December auditions students were able to say if they preferred a small or larger role. Another teacher and a fifth grade parent judged the auditions.
BEACH SAID some of the students who were interested were those she didn’t necessarily expect, but she was happy with the selection of students who were motivated to learn their characters. “Casting ended up working really well,” she said.
“Every child had a part,” Duling added, “each one had a specific role.”
Beach used materials from Music Theatre International, a company she worked with while at Nysmith, to plan the play. The company formats musicals on several levels for children of all ages, sometimes leaving songs out to make the presentation shorter. Beach chose to do an adaptation of Disney’s “The Jungle Book.”
“‘Jungle Book’ seemed to fit the kids that I have this year,” Beach said.
The two sixth grade classes were divided into monkeys, elephants, snakes and a host of other jungle dwellers, with Baloo the bear and Bagheera the panther taking the lead to bring Mowgli to the man-village. Beach thought the students enjoyed having a play that was familiar to them. She said she also worked to get the children to think beyond what they already knew about the story: “It’s hard to get them to be creative differently than what’s in the movie.”
She taught the musical in stages after the students returned from winter break in January. First came the music, then the choreography, then blocking on the stage.
THE STAGE ITSELF — at the front of the Franklin Sherman cafeteria — was one of the only problems Beach faced. “Sixty-five kids on a stage this big” was a challenge. Most of the students stood on risers while one group acted in the front of the stage. Parent volunteers helped with costuming and with the audio equipment, which included several clip-on and handheld microphones borrowed from the school system.
In addition to being a chance for the sixth grade class to come together, Duling highlighted the play as an opportunity to show the importance of arts education. “It’s very important that the arts remain as a central part of the curriculum at elementary schools,” she said. Franklin Sherman is proud of its “fantastic academic program,” she said, but also wanted children that are well rounded with exposure to art and music. “To me that’s something that we will just never allow to be taken away from us,” she said.