Why We Do What We Do - A Holiday Message

Why We Do What We Do - A Holiday Message

In the spirit of the holidays, we'd like to share a letter sent to Freddie Gershon, CEO and Chair of MTI. For us, stories like this are the reason we all do what we do.

Happy holidays and happy new year to all.

-  Your friends at MTI

Dear Mr. Gershon;

Thank you so much for the work you and countless members of your staff did on our behalf with regard to securing the rights for RENT: School Edition. This is truly above and beyond and I must say very typical of MTI.  I want to take this moment and give you a drama teacher's perspective on how MTI has truly changed the world of educational theatre, how your initiatives have truly changed my day-to-day job as it has for countless drama teachers throughout the world.

Over the past twenty years now I have done one or more musicals a year, most of them with MTI.  But when I started, musical theatre was completely and totally irrelevant to kids in schools.  The hay day of the Broadway musical from the 40's and 50's where everybody listened to Broadway songs on the radio and sang them at the Saturday night dance was over.  These shows had little connection to high school students and except for a few die-hard theatre kids, singing and dancing in the Broadway musical was the equivalent of social leprosy, especially for the guys!!

Then I started to notice a change.  Even though I've never done one of these shows, it all started with Broadway-Jr. A few years after MTI started the Broadway-Jr program, my recruitment efforts became so much easier.  It was amazing actually; kids in my Grade 10 class who transferred from an elementary or junior high school, that did a Broadway-Jr show, were clambering to do a musical at high school and this was infectious to other kids.  Soon, those football players who ducked into broom closets whenever they saw me in the hall-I tend to be persistent-were now approaching me asking me about the show.  Then came things like RehearsaScore, Orch-Extra and all the other add-ons making the building of the show much easier; I actually have been told by conductors and music directors that they will only do a show with me if it's from MTI!!  And then came the school editions to the big, now very kid-popular shows, like Les Mis, Sweeney Todd and of course RENT!!  Kids already know these shows better than we do from listening to them on their ipods and singing them at Saturday night parties; funny how that came around full circle hey!!

This year I had just over 3000 kids-no, that's not a typo--apply/request info on our summer musical program!!  We now run kind of a hybrid program in the performing arts where kids from other schools that have smaller developing programs can audition with us and the money raised goes back to their high schools to help these schools pay for royalties, costumes etc.  Obviously, we can only accept a small fraction of that number of kids, but the point is this kind of success didn't happen without MTI!! Because you are visionaries, because you get it, because you can see it through the eyes of a kid, you have truly reinvented this entire art form and I believe saved it from extinction in high schools.

You know, I've often said that the musical is the precious and essential "excuse" to provide us with the avenue for our real purpose; that being to change lives.  One of the most significant things you and everyone at MTI do is provide us with the support that we, in the trenches, need to change lives.  Over the past twenty years, I have hundreds of examples of this and you share in each one of them:

From the chilling, where a kid at his graduation pulled me aside and in tears informed me that when he started high school he was so alone and suicidal that the only thing that keep him going was the choreography rehearsal for Fiddler on the Roof. Over those months and then years, he made true friends and came to value himself; through the collective gift of art, we were able to steer him through the dark times without even realizing we are doing it.

To the encouraging, where in West Side Story one of the school's biggest bullies was partnered as a "jet-brother" with one of the most-bullied kids.  I recently heard that these two fellows were the "Best Man" at each other's respective weddings....enough said on how that one worked out.

To the heart-warming, where one girl was at the top of our district in a gifted class when one Thanksgiving her father was killed in a drunk driving accident.  Just months later, she was removed from the gifted setting and placed in the severe learning disabilities/autistic class as she just shut down and wasn't communicating.  She remembers hearing us rehearse Guys N' Dolls and after weeks finally mustered up the courage to ask if she could help with props; she was incredible and the next year she shone with singing and dance, performing in Damn Yankees!! And she is now one of the top theatrical producers in our city!!  I know, because I've worked for her; let me tell you, former teachers don't get any breaks-too funny!!

I remember, when alcohol and drugs were starting to get out of hand, I convinced the school to create an alternative where on Friday nights I ran rehearsal late and then we opened up the gyms and let the kids stay as long as they wanted...some nights we didn't get out of there until 2am but it was worth every minute.

In the spirit of It Takes a Village to Raise a Child, without MTI none of this would have happened.  You provide us with that most valued "excuse" to change the world.  When someone in your shipping department is working overtime getting out boxes of rehearsal materials to schools, those boxes aren't full of rehearsal materials; they're full of changed lives!!  When one of your customer representatives is patiently working with an overwhelmed new teacher who has no idea what they have gotten themselves into, that conversation is the beginning of a thirty year relationship with literally thousands of changed lives attached to it!!  You all excel at these extremely important jobs as only WITH YOU can I--and thousands like me--shine at the most important job in the world.

Thank you again for your help with RENT - thank you for that beautiful Christmas gift.  May the joy of this Festive Season be with you and yours always!!

Sincerely yours,

(A Teacher)