While the NBC drama "Smash" shines a spotlight behind the scenes of a Broadway-bound musical, the show also promotes the importance of arts education for students and teachers across the country. The network has partnered with iTheatrics' Junior Theater Project for NBC's "Smash": Make a Musical, a philanthropic initiative that aims to help create self-sustaining musical theater programs in underserved schools nationwide, with a goal of creating 1,000 such programs in schools over the next five years.
The 20 schools of phase one were announced in January, before the premiere of "Smash." The schools will present their first-ever musicals in May or June. On March 27, an additional 30 semifinalist schools were announced for the second phase of Make a Musical. On May 7, the 10 schools selected through online voting will be announced for the fall 2012 program.
"I think it's wonderful that they're investing in our schools," Timothy A. McDonald, founder and CEO of iTheatrics, said of his partners at NBC. "They're doing it in a way that is really going to make a difference, because they're not just showing up and writing checks; they're building programs. Part of the requirement of these schools when they apply is a commitment to make sure the program is sustainable. The end result, we are confident, is going to be programs that last for many, many, many years."
The selected schools will stage a musical of their choice, with licensing fees waived by Music Theatre International. Each school is given an MTI Broadway Junior Collection ShowKit featuring accompaniment CDs, sheet music, choreography DVDs, scripts, and more. Local program advisers guide teachers and students through the entire process of staging a musical. At the completion of the program, each school will put on public performances for the community and will take part in a final professional development workshop focused on evaluating the process and planning for the future.
Karli Baldus teaches theater at Muskegon High School in Muskegon, Mich., one of the 30 schools in the running for the 10 available fall slots. She has seen arts funding cut in the decade since she began teaching there, but she did not have the support of school administrators until recently. As soon as she applied to Make a Musical, Baldus was amazed at the support the school received from the community.
"I have some Gleeks [fans of Fox TV series "Glee"] that have joined my theater group," Baldus said. "Those shows have started a fire in the kids that makes them want to explore it more."
Prior to its partnership with NBC, iTheatrics had supported similar initiatives for nearly a decade, primarily in New York schools. McDonald encourages others in the theater community to be engaged and advocate the need for arts education, but he also calls on retail outlets such as The Home Depot and Lowe's to join the cause.
"It's not only about singing, acting, and dancing; it's also about building sets," he said. "I think there's the opportunity for sponsorship on this to be quite diverse."
Leadership Public High School in New York is one of 20 schools that will present its first musical this spring:
The 30 semi-finalist schools for "phase two" (Fall 2012) are:
Conway Christian School in Conway, AR
Luther Burbank High School in Sacramento, CA
University High School in Los Angeles, CA
Charles E. Hart Middle School, in Washington, DC
Haralson County Middle School in Tallapoosa, GA
Gary Corner College Prep in Chicago, IL
LaGrange High School in Lake Charles, LA
South Middle School in Brockton, MA
Ambrose Elementary School in Winchester, MA
Johnnycake Elementary School in Baltimore, MD
Vandercook Lake MS/HS in Jackson, MI
Flint Northwestern High School in Flint, MI
Muskegon High School in Muskegon, MI
Confluence Academy Walnut Park in Saint Louis, MO
Hunter High School in Gastonia, NC
The Newcomers School in Greensboro, NC
Green Hills School in Greendell, NJ
Teaneck Community Charter School in Teaneck, NJ
Moreno Valley High School in Angel Fire, NM
The Global Learning Collaborative in New York, NY
Grover Cleveland High School in Ridgewood, NY
Lane Middle School in Portland, OR
Richard Allen Prepartory Charter School in Philadelphia, PA
Big Beaver Falls Area Middle Schools in Beaver Falls, PA
A+ Academy in Dallas, TX
Ben Franklin Elementary in Wichita Falls, TX
Desert Wind Elementary School (K-8) in El Paso, TX
Giaudrone Middle School in Tacoma, WA
Ashland Middle School in Ashland, WI
Blennerhassett Middle School in Parkerburg, WV
The 20 "phase one" finalists that will present their musicals in Spring 2012 are:
The Academy at Westinghouse in Pittsburgh, PA
Brittany Woods Middle School in University City, MO
Desert Sands Middle School in Phoenix, AZ
The Falcon Academy of Creative Arts in Mogadore, OH
Independence Charter School in Philadelphia, PA
KIPP Bridge Charter School in Oakland, CA
Leadership and Public Service High School in New York, NY
Middleton Street Elementary School in Huntington Park, CA
Morris E. Ford Middle School in Tacoma, WA
Place Bridge Academy in Denver, CO
Renfroe Middle School in Decatur, GA
Sharpstown High School in Houston, TX
Stroud High School in Stroud, OK
Trillium Charter School in Portland, OR
Trimble Tech High School in Fort Worth, TX
The University of Chicago Charter School Woodlawn Campus (UCW) in Chicago, IL
Watershed High School in Minneapolis, MN
Watertown Middle School in Boston, MA
Wheaton High School in Silver Spring, MD
W. H. Oliver Middle School in Nashville, TN