NBC's 'SMASH' MAKE A MUSICAL, School #9 - Middleton Street Elementary School, Los Angeles

NBC's 'SMASH' MAKE A MUSICAL, School #9 - Middleton Street Elementary School, Los Angeles

School #9: Middleton Street Elementary School

Los Angeles, California

Reported by: Timothy Allen McDonald, Founder and CEO, iTheatrics

January 31, 2012

Today finds me in Los Angeles working with Middleton Street Elementary School located in East Los Angeles. Tomorrow I meet with our friends at NBC to update them on everything that is happening with NBC’s ‘SMASH’ MAKE A MUSICAL. My hotel is in Hollywood, which according to google maps is located just ten miles from the school and eight miles from NBC.

As I headed to my car to drive to the school, I walked along the famous Hollywood Walk of Fame and stepped over Judy Garland’s star.  I wondered if this was some sort of sign.

The ten mile trek took me far from the make believe of Hollywood and into an area consisting mainly of gritty industrial parks.  I thought to myself several times, “is there really going to be school here?” and convinced myself I was lost. But then I took a left, traveled just two short blocks, and found myself in a bustling community. And sure enough, in the heart of this neighborhood, I found Middleton Street Elementary School.

The school serves approximately 1,200 students and has thriving Mariachi and Folklorico programs, among the many activities offered afterschool. However, they’ve never attempted a musical.

The school’s Assistant Principal, Mrs. Peich, is petite in stature, but not in energy, drive or leadership.  When I asked her why the school applied for “NBC’s ‘Smash’: Make A Musical” she said, “The arts teach our kids to take positive risks, to collaborate and work together for the greater good, to be enthusiastic about something they’re learning to love.  These are lessons that aren’t readily taught outside of the arts.”

However, Mrs. Peich will not be happy that I quoted her because she made it very clear, “the real stars of this school are my teachers—they’re the ones that make it happen for our students, not me.”  She’s correct and charmingly modest – her teaching team is fantastic.  The music teacher not only teaches instrumental music but assists with the Mariachi program. The choreographer and director leads the Folklorico program (Folklorico is traditional Spanish folk dancing). Neither have worked on a musical with kids before, and I could definitely sense their trepidation.

The children at Middleton were absolutely wonderful to work with: smart, engaged, inquisitive, respectful and kind to both me and to each other.  It was clear that a few of the students were still working on their English skills and therefore were sometimes shy and a bit hesitant. But when a kid belts out “Oh, ho the Wells Fargo Wagon is a ‘comin’ down the street! Oh, please let it be for me!” any shyness is trumped by the joy of becoming someone else.  And that someone else isn’t shy.  That someone else sings loudly, has a big ol’ smile on her face, and is really, really happy that the Wells Fargo Wagon is bringing her something incredibly awesome.

The news team from KNBC, the Los Angeles NBC affiliate was on hand to film the action and ask the teachers and kids about their experience. While they were interviewing the teachers, I chatted with the kids.  I asked them what they loved to do the most and many of them said “music and dance.”  So I asked them what type of dance they liked. They responded with hip-hop, break, shuffling and “folklorico!” I asked them if they’d show me folklorico.  One of the boys and the tallest girl agreed.    Their dance was glorious, involving intricate footwork, and the swishing of an imaginary skirt. Seeing these kids being so proud of their heritage and so eager to share it with me brought tears to my eyes.

As I gathered my stuff to leave, I heard Mrs. Peich say, “we’ve got arts enrichment for the fifth graders with “NBC’s ‘Smash’: Make A Musical,” the fourth grade’s covered with LA Opera, and the third grade has Huntington Playhouse, I’ve just got to find the right program for our first and second graders.”

And I have no doubt she will.

P.S. I taught the kids at Middleton the signs I learned in Oakland at the Kipp Bridge school. The LA kids seemed to love them as much as I do.  Thanks again, Oakland for teaching this old dog a new trick!

“NBC’s ‘Smash’: Make A Musical” program is administered by iTheatrics under the supervision of Timothy Allen McDonald.  For more information, or to apply to become a part of the program, logon to www.MAKEAMUSICAL.ORG.