The Truth about the School Musical

It was there on that auditorium stage, with the curtains slowly opening, when it finally dawned on me. This was it. My final musical, and the final performance that I would give during my high school career. As I stood there looking out at the cheering crowd, my eyes began to well with tears. Three years of nostalgia washed over me in a cold blur as I launched into sarcastic dialogue in a terrible British accent. Slowly but surely I evolved from a small, timid and closeted boy playing an undead hippie, to a cat, to a barman, and finally to who I am today – a small, slightly less timid and certainly no longer closeted boy. The great actress and singer Audra McDonald once said, “I found the theatre, and I found my home”, and I couldn’t agree more.

Although there are many who yearn for the sense of nonchalant immersion that a show provides, some people would argue against the need for a school production, saying that it’s a waste of time, money, and effort that could be invested in other areas; perhaps better resources for classrooms, for example. They might say, ‘why bother when you can just go and watch a movie?’ or that theatre and musical are just boring. Some, to put it bluntly, simply don’t care.

Despite what different people believe, it is clear that the school production is here to stay; one need only look at the multitude of high schools, intermediates, and primary schools staging them. From the emotional intensity and heart-wrenching storyline of epic shows like Boublil and Schonberg’s ‘Miss Saigon’, to the borderline ridiculousness of Macleans’ latest production ‘The Drowsy Chaperone’, the musical genre has much more to offer both the audience and the cast and crew than meets the eye.

From an insider’s perspective, the musical process is much larger and more exhausting than I could have ever anticipated before going in. Weeks and perhaps even months before the initial auditions, planning for upcoming productions have already begun. Then comes the always difficult and daunting audition process, where many hopefuls are either accepted or rejected – and for those in the former category, little did we know what we had gotten ourselves into.

Imagine having to stay at school on a Friday afternoon until 6:30pm and then have to come back the next day from 9am to 5pm. That’s not to mention the week-long intensive holiday rehearsals in the Term 1 holidays. This is the musical experience. However, to know that all of your hard effort has paid off in performance, in the form of a deafening cheering audience and a standing ovation, makes it all worth it. And then came the tears. The many, many tears.

A school show, and more specifically a school musical, is one of the most special things that a person can experience. Every year I am met with new faces and new talent that never fail to awe and inspire me. Every year I am greeted by people I might never have talked to before. Every year I don’t just make a group of amazing new friends, I make a new family. This is what truly makes a show so important and so special.

From Macleans musicals, I have made some of my best friends (shout out to Hayatt, Jiwoo, and Michelle), made several new unrelated family members, and even found love (shout out to my fave, Hamish). These people have helped me grow so much as a person, and have helped to shape who I am today. It was in musical that I first felt completely comfortable to be myself in the presence of others. It truly is something unlike anything that I’ve ever experienced before and I honestly wouldn’t give it up for the world.

So what makes the experience so alluring to all those involved? What makes people come back year after year? As Macleans musical alumni and star of The Drowsy Chaperone Nelson Lee put it, “Musicals cannot really be summed up in one simple sentence. It’s indescribable. It’s part passion. It’s part enjoyment. It’s part jealousy, part anger, part regret. But it’s also part hope, and pride. All combined and mixed into a neat little ‘musical’ cake.”  The cakes, a combination of all of the best and worst parts of musical, are each different and individual – “each in its own is one of a kind, original, delicate, and beautiful.” That’s what makes it so special.

And what does everyone else think? After consulting many of my fellow cast members, I have narrowed this down to 3 things: the ability to meet a huge variety of people from all different walks of life, the balance between focussing and socialising, and working towards a common goal. Most, if not everyone, that I talked to mentioned that they were able to meet people they wouldn’t usually have spent time with and transforming from virtually strangers into a close-knit family. It was inspiring to see such a diverse group of people come together and work hard in order to achieve something great, and I have to say that I am extremely proud of them and what we accomplished together.

The school musical experience is one that everyone – at least every performer – should taste at some point of their time at Macleans. Never failing to deliver mind-bogglingly high standard shows, it is safe to say that the future of the school production is secure under the excellent direction of Mr Miles and the performing arts department. We certainly would not be able to do what we do without them, and so for that I am eternally grateful.

To anyone who reads this that may be considering auditioning for a show, but is worried about not getting in, or anyone who may have auditioned but didn’t quite succeed before, I strongly encourage you to keep going and keep trying because it’s all worth it. Everyone has and frankly still do experience those same feelings of fear, anxiety and embarrassment as you. To quote the great Stephen Sondheim musical ‘Into the Woods’, “you are not alone”. Finally to my musical family from Addams, Cats, Saigon, and now Drowsy, I would like to say thank you, and I love you all.

Written by Timothy Lim


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