Write What You Know: A Classroom’s Timely Musical

When Mrs. Mills asked her Booker Middle School theatre class what kind of musical they might like to write, inspired by a real person or event, and what the title song would be, the students bubbled with creative ideas.

“I kicked the brainstorm off with King Tut: The Musical…and the title song would be ‘Wrappin’ in Style,’” said Mrs. Mills. One student suggested Ponce de Leon: The Musical!, featuring the title song, “Youth.” Another suggested Abolished Slavery: The Musical, featuring the title song “Freedom.”

Booker Middle School Teacher Mrs. Mills

It was Mark Twain who once said, “Write what you know.” And when sixth grade student Jude D. called out his idea for a musical, the class erupted with excitement – the kind of excitement that comes from connecting with an idea that these students knew all too well.

“How about Zoommance: The Musical?” Jude suggested, “and the title song would be ‘I Feel Muted Without You.’”

This year marks Mrs. Mills’ 10th year participating in FST’s award-winning WRITE A PLAY program, an arts-in-education initiative designed to give students the example, inspiration, and the skills to write plays of their own. This year also marks the first year Mrs. Mills has had to conduct the program for students both in-person and online.

Inspired by a school year of juggling both virtual and in-classroom learning, Zoommance: The Musical certainly struck a chord with both the students and their teacher.

“It was really kind of a beautiful moment,” said Mrs. Mills. “It was the last idea shared and everyone loved it and said, ‘Please, Mrs. Mills, can we write THAT ONE?!’ So, I said, ‘I’ll see what we can do,’ and called FST. I knew I could help write the lyrics, but I couldn’t write the music.”

Jim Prosser. Photo by Sarah Haley.

Director of Children’s Theatre Caroline Saldivar knew just the person who could help this class get their musical off the ground. She brought in FST’s very own Jim Prosser, the man behind the arrangements for over 50 of FST’s beloved Cabarets.

“Jim Prosser is one of the most gifted improvisational pianists/composers I’ve ever worked with,” said Saldivar. “He has an uncanny ability to create melodies on the spot and bring lyrics to life. Thanks to Jim, we were able to help these students write lyrics and then hear them set to music – all within a 45-minute class period.”

Zoommance: The Musical follows four eighth-grade characters who are adapting to learning from home during the COVID-19 quarantine. They log into their Zoom class, but the teacher’s not there.

“So they try to figure out what they should do,” said Mrs. Mills. “And throughout the play, amidst the search for their teacher, the students begin to learn more about the issues their peers are facing in their personal lives, disproving pre-conceived ideas and judgments they previously had about each other.”

Mrs. Mills’ Student, Jude D.

Zoommance: The Musical is just one play out of thousands that will be entered this year into FST’s 30th Anniversary WRITE A PLAY playwriting competition. Winning plays will be selected to be mounted in a professional production this April and brought to life by a cast of FST actors. The production will be streamed online for participating students and their families, teachers, and peers. The stakes are high, just like Jude’s hopes.

“I would recommend WRITE A PLAY to everyone,” said Jude. “Because you can really reach out your imagination and we don’t get many opportunities to do that.”

“I find WRITE A PLAY becomes a real cornerstone project each year,” said Mrs. Mills. “This program is a really great foundational way for me to teach how theatre as an art form works.”

Jude says he wants to be an actor when he grows up. But who knows? After this experience, he may find he has more plays inside to write.