Community Creativity: “Let’s Put On A Show”

Since Mickey Rooney and Judy Garland first appeared together in Babes In Arms, “Let’s put on a show!” pretty much describes the gung-ho attitude of high schoolers, their teachers and the community support that goes into every high school musical.  The connections between community and high school benefit everyone by generating pride of place, generating opportunities for mutual support and, most importantly, reminding everyone that the young can accomplish amazing things.

High school performances, sporting events, academic competitions, and service projects build youth confidence and contribute to the community at large. But have the days of singing in the streets to whip-up a crowd been replaced by Facebook and Twitter? The need for community support has not changed. (Honest Disclosure: I’m going to talk about high school musicals today as an excuse for a ‘proud papa’ moment as well as to participate in a Middle Zone Muzings project.)

Maine South High School in Park Ridge recently produced My Favorite Year. It featured some memorable music, a fun look at 50’s TV and some great sword fights. (The Sword fights were my favorite for a variety of reasons – not least of which young Matthew is the evil swordsman on the left.) And while it is a great show, it is virtually unknown as a musical.

The kids accomplish amazing things. And while they are led and supported by a talented group of teachers, the philosophy has always been to put kids in control of most everything. They worked hundreds (or thousands) of hours designing, painting, sewing, building and setting up the sets, costumes, lighting, sound, props and makeup. Musicians and actors practiced and learned skills and lines over just a few months. The poster and t-shirt design was created by a student as part of a competition where many entered. Everyone learns ‘Lets Put On A Show’ is hard work.

Generating community support used to be a pretty straight forward thing:

  • Talk to the paper.
  • Put up posters.
  • Send home flyers.
  • Get business sponsors.

But as these efforts were underway it became obvious we were missing some big opportunities…

  • Facebook Event
  • Twitter Tweets.
  • Ticket Information On Web.

When ticket sales proved sluggish kids, parents and community members got creative. We took ticket sales and communication directly to neighborhood churches, getting announcements in church bulletins and even selling tickets during coffee hours following service. Businesses stepped up with greater sponsorship support. But was it effective?

The kids began inviting their friends via Facebook. We discovered alumni and city groups on-line that were interested in hearing about the musical. Even gave Facebook Advertising a try. The event information was seen by thousands of folks who wouldn’t have seen it before. But was it effective?

Ticket sales flyers were emailed and sent door-to-door to make sure neighbors new about the show. 

I tweeted on Twitter.

But was it effective?  Well, hard to say. Sales were down this year but maybe not as much as they could have been. The real learning was in the many new ways support from the community at large could be generated. Facebook seemed to help a bit, but outreach to the local churches may have been more effective. However, all the tools, new and old have one thing in common. They depend on the community to succeed.  Poster don’t go up without business’s permission. Announcements don’t get made if you don’t reach out to the church. Props don’t get donated if folks aren’t willing to support the high school.

Community interaction is a two way street. The high school kids are regularly developing service projects with various community organizations. In the case of the musical Seniors and Park Ridge 8th Graders were invited to free performances which were heavily attended.

So as time goes on the new technology available will be used to strengthen the links between community and high school. There will be a Facebook group supporting the fine arts at Maine South. And email lists, twitter accounts and blogs. But there will still be kids and parents putting up posters and going to meetings to get business and community support. (We all know the importance of shoe-leather, that will never change – even if it goes slightly virtual.)

Creativity comes in a lot of forms. Community creativity supports connections that give folks opportunities that wouldn’t exist otherwise.Kids learn the visual and performing aspects of creativity back stage and front during the show. But the entire community learns new ways to communicate, connect, and support each other through every high school effort!  

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11 Responses to Community Creativity: “Let’s Put On A Show”

  1. Andrew says:


    I tell you what, no one would ever want to mess with Mathew based on that picture! He certainly looks like a true statesman in that outfit!

    It’s wonderful to see young teenagers becoming actively involved within the local community and participating actively in community projects and events. It is also great to hear that the kids felt empowered to follow their own initiatives throughout their participation in this project.

    Sure, sales may have been a bit down, and that is never pleasing, but at least the kids know that the reason for this had nothing to do with any failure on their part to pull out all stops and make every possible effort to promote their performance.

    Andrew’s last blog post..Pehaps Hong Kong’s tycoons don’t always get their way after all

  2. We’re certainly proud of him. And I think you hit on the real lesson for us all in the last paragraph of your comment. Thank for stopping by Andrew.

  3. Pingback: Middle Zone Musings » All Entries: What I Learned From Community

  4. It’s so useful to keep the basic in front of us when we are creating community events. I think the usefulness of promotion via the social media channels will grow over the coming years, but there’s still nothing like poster board…

    Richard Reeve’s last blog post..Soundscape: Spring Storm

  5. There needs to be never ending creativity of parents where our kids are involved! Adding new media into the mix is fun but I agree there will still be folks running off posters and pushing flyers through letterboxes.

    Like so many projects some people are willing to help but wait to be asked and finding them is an endless challenge. Lessons learned this time might help next – and so on….

    Jackie Cameron’s last blog post..What I have learned from my online community

  6. Hi Richard, It’s easy to forget there are folks who still don’t have a Facebook account in the neighborhood. However, from my daughter I understand that in college the Facebook events function has significantly reduced the need for posters, but then those kids are always cutting edge.

  7. Hi Jackie, Finding help is always an issue. But as you say, usually they are just waiting to be asked. (In person or by phone still works better than email!)

  8. Karen Swim says:

    Fred, thanks for sharing the proud papa moment with us and also illustrating a great lesson for adults. In the midst of technology and information overload, let us never forget our own local community. A community is an extension of family, and we must tend to the home front before we can effectively change the world. You also captured the timeless energy of the musical. To this day, a musical transports me to a happy place where everything is possible.

    Karen Swim’s last blog post..Breath of Life

  9. Marianna says:

    Hi Fred,

    You’ve done such a great job of describing the whole process, I felt as if I was there with you. If not in body, at least in heart.

    I love how you finished with the comment that creativity comes in many forms. This is true not only in the traditional “arts,” but also in finding a unique way to solve a problem, designing a set or fixing a car.

    When the creativity bird is pushed out of the nest, no one really knows how high it will fly.

    Marianna’s last blog post..Mom’s Voice

  10. Karen, Thank you so much for your kind comments. As my children have grown the importance of community and family and friends has been made clear to me over and over. And boy, does seeing the kids put on a show bring back memories.

  11. Hi Mariana, So true and so important to remind folks who don’t feel they are in a ‘creative’ profession that the need for creativity is everywhere. Thanks for commenting!

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