A look inside Bay Minette Elementary School's growing theatre department

By Jessica Vaughn
Education Editor
jessica@gulfcoastmedia.com
Posted 11/11/22

BAY MINETTE — It started out with a suggestion from a former assistant principal."He asked, 'What do you think about doing a Broadway Junior show?'" Melanie Brannan, music teacher at Bay …

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A look inside Bay Minette Elementary School's growing theatre department

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BAY MINETTE — It started out with a suggestion from a former assistant principal.

"He asked, 'What do you think about doing a Broadway Junior show?'" Melanie Brannan, music teacher at Bay Minette Elementary School, recalled. "And well, it's a lot! It's big."

The idea took. The school looked into a company in New York to gather information on putting on a Broadway Junior show. Royalties were paid.

Now, three years in, the school's young theatre department is rapidly growing – as are the shows.

Putting on a show

The program began with a performance of "Seussical JR."

"We had no budget, so we received a lot of donations from local organizations, like the Stockton Five Arts Club," Brannan said. "We were on a pretty shoestring budget, but we made it work."

Unfortunately, while able to overcome budget restraints, something unanticipated was looming on the horizon.

"That was the first year of the COVID pandemic," Brannan said. "We had all these children practicing all the way from December until March, and then we went home."

Upon returning for the 2020-2021 school year, roles had to be recast that were left vacant by sixth graders who were now in the middle school.

Then, after more than a year, it was showtime.

"After 17 months, we finally got to get "Seussical JR." on stage, and that was when the bug bit," Brannan said. "Everybody had such a great time. I was just amazed at the talent that we had that year."

The following year, the BMES Theatre Department auditioned over 100 students for "The Lion King JR." This year, over 140 students came to audition for Aladdin JR.

Bringing Broadway Junior to life
Each year brings new triumphs and challenges when bringing a Broadway Junior to life. After the first year, Brannan said a board made up of five school faculty members was formed. The board participates in every decision concerning the musicals, from how much is spent to the costumes.

For Aladdin JR., screen projections will be used for the first time in a BMES theatre performance. Now, scenes will shift on the screen while stagehands move props around on stage, adding a new layer to the performance and set design. The school's librarian is a huge asset when it comes to tech for the shows, Brannan said, and the band director also gets involved, taking the lead when it comes to sound.

"It takes a village," Brannan said.

Hollywood at BMES
Students in grades three through six are able to audition for roles. And, Brannan said, they pull out all the stops.

"To see third graders memorize a monologue, that's a wonderful learning experience in itself," she said. "To have students in third, fourth, fifth and sixth grade memorize their monologue and show out when they come to rehearsal, it's amazing."

Students don't just take a lead when it comes to the performances. Students can sign up to be stagehands as well.

"We had five younger stagehands last year, and they were so organized," Brannan said. "They had a plan on the wall, and they knew what was going on in act one, act two and act three. They knew who was moving what and it was very well organized. You have to be. They have to be."

Introducing students to the theatre
Brannan said an eventual goal is to invite other schools in the Bay Minette feeder pattern to see the show and introduce them to the theatre. Especially with the impact it's had on BMES students.

"It excites me that this is our thing," she said. "We love it, we enjoy it so much. And the kids. This is their opportunity to find their voice, and we have just been amazed at the talent. We're so excited when someone who just maybe hasn't found their niche yet finds that this is something that they want to do, and they may want to do it for the rest of their life. That is very exciting."

The BMES Theatre Department will perform Aladdin JR. the last weekend of April 2023. For showtimes and information, follow Bay Minette Elementary on Facebook.

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