Presentation Title

Musical Theatre School Tour: Inspiring Students to Explore History in Their Own Backyards

Authors' Names

Aimee Paxton
Jadd Davis

Presentation Type

Oral Presentation

Abstract/Artist Statement

Theatre for Young Audiences (or TYA) is an artistic medium wherein adult actors present theatrical works geared for young people. It is important to distinguish that TYA is for children, rather than by children. Musical theatre uses a multitude of storytelling devices: script, lyrics, music and choreography. By employing such a multi-pronged approach, a TYA musical can thus reach children of differing sensibilities.

In our research we have found that the model of a TYA school tour provides access to students, particularly in rural areas, who seldom experience live theatre. Bringing the show to the schools is important, rather than forcing students to come to a physical theatre, where access may be impossible or impractical.

We have spent years working at the premiere TYA establishments in the Northwest and draw heavily from the philosophies espoused by flagship entities such as Seattle Children’s Theatre. We have tested the model with Coeur d’Alene Summer Theatre’s “CST on the Road”, which we helped inaugurate in 2015. It is our goal to spread TYA theatre throughout the Northwest (and create an imitable model for other geographies) rooted in a sense of place. In our research, we have found that young people respond favorably to material about those places with which they are familiar, deriving greater value from their immediate locale. Our research aims to create an ever-growing catalogue of TYA musicals with specific historical and geographical contexts, while deepening our own skills as complete theatre-makers.

To this end, we have written the original touring musical, Gray Thunder, which centers on the historical figure of Mable Gray. In 1902, Gray became the first Official Fire Lookout in Western America (atop Bertha Hill, formerly known as Thunder Mountain, in Central Idaho). Mable Gray is an excellent subject for a historical musical because not much is known about her personal life. Thus, as writers we can fictionalize her relationships while addressing documented contextual facts about her life, creating a rich story to accompany the history lesson.

This medium offers an opportunity to encourage positive value structures, as students build empathy with the characters they see portrayed. In Gray Thunder and past work we introduce themes of kindness and compassion, anti-bullying, the value of nature, and what it means to be a family. Of particular note in Gray Thunder is the fact that the protagonist is a woman whose work was of considerable value in a culture dominated by men. It is important that young children of all gender identities hear stories from the past that are not simply from the male perspective.

Creating a historical musical requires months of research and constant collaboration, culminating in rehearsal and finally performance. Gray Thunder is about to begin rehearsals and will premiere on tour in Northern Idaho this winter.

This presentation will consist of a brief performance from the musical, accompanied by visual aids of the script in various stages of development, responses collected from students and teachers, and a vision for future TYA opportunities in the greater Missoula area.

Mentor Name

Bernadette Sweeney

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Feb 22nd, 3:20 PM Feb 22nd, 3:35 PM

Musical Theatre School Tour: Inspiring Students to Explore History in Their Own Backyards

UC South Ballroom

Theatre for Young Audiences (or TYA) is an artistic medium wherein adult actors present theatrical works geared for young people. It is important to distinguish that TYA is for children, rather than by children. Musical theatre uses a multitude of storytelling devices: script, lyrics, music and choreography. By employing such a multi-pronged approach, a TYA musical can thus reach children of differing sensibilities.

In our research we have found that the model of a TYA school tour provides access to students, particularly in rural areas, who seldom experience live theatre. Bringing the show to the schools is important, rather than forcing students to come to a physical theatre, where access may be impossible or impractical.

We have spent years working at the premiere TYA establishments in the Northwest and draw heavily from the philosophies espoused by flagship entities such as Seattle Children’s Theatre. We have tested the model with Coeur d’Alene Summer Theatre’s “CST on the Road”, which we helped inaugurate in 2015. It is our goal to spread TYA theatre throughout the Northwest (and create an imitable model for other geographies) rooted in a sense of place. In our research, we have found that young people respond favorably to material about those places with which they are familiar, deriving greater value from their immediate locale. Our research aims to create an ever-growing catalogue of TYA musicals with specific historical and geographical contexts, while deepening our own skills as complete theatre-makers.

To this end, we have written the original touring musical, Gray Thunder, which centers on the historical figure of Mable Gray. In 1902, Gray became the first Official Fire Lookout in Western America (atop Bertha Hill, formerly known as Thunder Mountain, in Central Idaho). Mable Gray is an excellent subject for a historical musical because not much is known about her personal life. Thus, as writers we can fictionalize her relationships while addressing documented contextual facts about her life, creating a rich story to accompany the history lesson.

This medium offers an opportunity to encourage positive value structures, as students build empathy with the characters they see portrayed. In Gray Thunder and past work we introduce themes of kindness and compassion, anti-bullying, the value of nature, and what it means to be a family. Of particular note in Gray Thunder is the fact that the protagonist is a woman whose work was of considerable value in a culture dominated by men. It is important that young children of all gender identities hear stories from the past that are not simply from the male perspective.

Creating a historical musical requires months of research and constant collaboration, culminating in rehearsal and finally performance. Gray Thunder is about to begin rehearsals and will premiere on tour in Northern Idaho this winter.

This presentation will consist of a brief performance from the musical, accompanied by visual aids of the script in various stages of development, responses collected from students and teachers, and a vision for future TYA opportunities in the greater Missoula area.