Failure can be difficult experience for students, but providing students with the opportunity to fail in a learning environment can create an even greater opportunity for growth.
Lisa Aune, a teacher and co-director of Bedford Road Collegiate's musical production of The Lion King, says encouraging students to go beyond their personal expectations as part of the production's cast and crew results in students who are resilient when faced with challenge and who are more engaged in their learning.
"The experience of preparing The Lion King teaches our students to fail, and fail, and fail again – loudly, in front of everyone. Failing is a big part of learning to be excellent," Aune said. "Because the musical theatre course is a mix of 10-, 20- and 30-level students they don't let each other give up. They become engaged in the process as a team and they drag, push and pull each other over the bar and then show off our school to our community."
The Lion King is just one example of the musical productions staged by Saskatoon Public Schools' collegiates during the 2016-17 school year. Legally Blonde at Walter Murray, Back to the '80s at Evan Hardy, The Little Mermaid at Tommy Douglas, Anything Goes at Marion Graham and Into the Woods at Centennial are among the productions that brought students together to create theatre and build community in the school.
The beauty of musical theatre, Aune said, is that while students learn to accept that they may not be outstanding in all aspects of performance, being part of the cast and crew provides the opportunity to push themselves to improve their individual skills while working as part of a team.
"Students in our Arts Education musical theatre class design and make costumes, design and teach choreography, stage direct, act, sing in four-part harmony and use computer programs to design T-shirts, posters and tickets. In the process they learn they don't have to be – and you can't possibly always be -- the best person in the room, especially on the first day," she said.
For the students didn't see themselves as singers or actors or didn't have confidence in their abilities, the support of teachers and cast mates provided a chance for everyone to learn and the encouragement for individuals to go beyond their expectations and assumptions.
Grade 10 student Emilee Kopeck said auditioning for the musical in Grade 9 and then landing the role of Timon in The Lion King has been an important part of her high school experience and personal growth.
"Once rehearsals started I immediately felt as if I belonged. Everyone was so accepting and inclusive and you quickly felt like one big musical family. It is impossible to tell you all the ways that the musical has affected my life. Now I sing in an a cappella group, I sing in my school's choir and I am now a leader in the musical. I went from being a Grade 9 and now people come to me when they have questions," she told the Board of Education during its April 11 meeting.
"What grabs me most about Bedford is that it is such a supportive space. It's the kind of place where you are not afraid to take risks and I feel comfortable to go out on stage and excited to do so. I have learned to push my boundaries and extend my comfort zone. This shines through in all of the things I do: assignments, presentations and speaking in front of all of you."
Will Radke, a Grade 11 student who played the role of Pumbaa, says being involved with the school's musical theatre productions has made him more confident and comfortable as a student and during public speaking opportunities.
"I have stuttered since I was five and I feel like acting on stage has really helped me," he said. "I want to become a politician in the future and I feel like everything I have done on stage has really helped me grow in learning how to cope with stuttering and, hopefully, just to prepare for the future."
Involvement in the musical involves a significant commitment to rehearsal during the course of several months, all while balancing school work and the other aspects of life. Callie Bosovich, a Grade 12 student who had the role of young Simba, relished the opportunity and wouldn't change a thing about her busy schedule.
"The opportunities are definitely there and that is the nice thing to have those chances at our school," she said. "Because our school is a small community you get those opportunities to be involved in musical, whether it is backstage or right in the spotlight."
The lessons taught by participation in a musical production go far beyond just acting and singing. Time management, working with others, perseverance and conflict management are as much a part of the experience as being on stage and are valuable skills that students will appreciate as they prepare for life after high school.
For Bosovich, being part of the cast paid off during an interview for a post-secondary program when she was asked to describe a stressful situation she had experienced and how she had responded.
"Well, I can tell you that when I am at musical every day in Semester 1 until seven o'clock at night and I go home and I am eating supper and doing homework until the wee hours of that night that is stressful," she said with a laugh.
"Having those scenarios to throw out to them (the interviewers) was awesome and I was able to draw on certain things: working together with a group of people, working together in stressful situations, pushing your limits and understanding what it is like to be embarrassed and coping with that. In the long run it was nice to have those situations, and while I am not pursing something in the arts it definitely helped me with that interview process -- I actually got accepted, so it went well!"
A successful production is the goal of the cast, crew and staff each year, but Aune knows the real success is seeing students who embrace the opportunity to learn, to take a chance, to discover what they are good at and to be part of a tight-knit, supportive community within their school.
"I believe that the performing arts helps students define themselves, teaches them to be resilient and engages them in their school and their community," she said. "We all know the value of finding that thing you are good at – especially if you have never had a "thing" before."