My decision to produce The Hunchback of Notre Dame with my students was driven as much by the life lessons they could learn from the story as it was by the opportunity it would give them to grow as artists. I consider it my responsibility to develop my students into empathetic and thoughtful young people who understand the power they have and the impact they can have on others. Hunchback provided the perfect training ground to help them discover how they can use the forces of their own human nature to bring about either oppression and abuse or justice and compassion.
On day one of rehearsal, we began exploring the reasons why this story needed to be told in our community. Why us? Why now? This sparked a lot of conversation about my students’ daily experiences of bullying and social pressures that come from an age of constant social media intrusion. I discovered that themes like abuse of power, social exclusion, and prejudicial harassment were all too familiar to these teenagers; they experience them right in the palms of their hands multiple times a day. It wasn’t long before the cast started making clear connections between their own world and that of Paris in 1482.
“It wasn’t long before the cast started making clear connections between their own world and that of Paris in 1482.”
The students’ connections to the story became even more personal when we turned the discussion towards that which “must remain hidden,” in the words of Frollo. I asked the students to break into small groups to discuss aspects of themselves that they keep “hidden in a bell tower.” This simple but challenging exercise struck a chord for the cast. They suddenly connected, on a particularly intimate level, to the personal suppression and systematic oppression that each character in Hunchback battles with in their own way. When reflecting back on his experience, the actor playing Quasimodo explained, “The thing that clicked the most was finding something in myself that I find ‘monstrous’ and something I hide away. I was then able to create an authentic character by completely putting myself in his shoes.”
By the end of our first meeting, the cast had created their own mission statement that would drive the rest of our process: “We are doing this show because we want to become united in our acceptance of ourselves and those around us.” This statement stayed posted in our rehearsal and performance spaces until the end of the run, ultimately setting the tone for every rehearsal, meeting, and performance.
Floyd Central High School (Floyds Knobs, IN)
Perhaps one of the most difficult characters for a teenager to break into is Frollo. Guilt driven, sexually suppressed, abusive, and bigoted, Frollo is truly scary because he is so truly human. Yet the challenging work of unpacking Frollo, and ultimately empathizing with him in spite of his monstrous actions, might just be one of the most important tasks I have ever asked a student to take on. With the #MeToo Movement gaining momentum during our rehearsal process, the need to understand the Archdeacon took on particular relevance.
I was fortunate to have a very thoughtful student in the role of Frollo. Through lots of discussion, the actor who played Frollo and I discovered the eerily simple factors in Frollo’s life that enabled his hatred and self-justification: a genuine love for his brother, a sense of obligation to a church that saved him from poverty, and a position of ungoverned authority. Discovering how easy it was for Frollo to reach a point where he could use his power to manipulate and abuse Esmeralda was particularly scary to the actor who played him in light of the abuses the #MeToo Movement was exposing each day. Frightening as it was for him to see how easily a man can turn into a monster, I believe the experience of playing Frollo will serve him well as he journeys into adulthood. I see a great deal of self-awareness in this student and a desire to treat others with dignity, both strengthened by his time on stage in Frollo’s shoes.
While our program trains many students for successful careers in theatre and other industries, it is most important to me that the success they have as professional adults be part and parcel with a positive impact on their respective fields. If I develop skilled theatre practitioners who are successful only in so much as they get lots of work but leave the world the way they found it, then I have failed as an educator. Stories like The Hunchback of Notre Dame are essential to preparing my students to go into the world and make it better.
“Indeed, the world will be kinder and love will be blinder if more kids are exposed to thoughtful Theatre Education, especially through shows like The Hunchback of Notre Dame.“
In the midst of our run, we witnessed the horror of the Stoneman Douglas shooting coupled with the heroism of Thespians from that wounded school who were conscious of their power and began to wield it to bring about positive change in our nation. Cell phones and social media, the same weapons of division that my students recognized on day one as central to their own experiences of hatred, began to be used by their own peers to propel a movement of peace and justice. As we closed our show amid a week of intruder drills and Snapchat threats to our school district, I found a sense of hope knowing that my students had learned two things while producing Hunchback: that they have power and that the dreams of “someday” can come about today if they wield that strength for the good of themselves and others. Indeed, the world will be kinder and love will be blinder if more kids are exposed to thoughtful Theatre Education, especially through shows like The Hunchback of Notre Dame.
Floyd Central High School (Floyds Knobs, IN)
Robbie Steiner is the Director of Theatre Arts at Floyd Central High School in southern Indiana. Under his direction, Floyd Central has been recognized as the “Best Theatre School in the Midwest” by Stage Directions Magazine and was honored with the Outstanding School Award by the Educational Theatre Association in 2017. He currently serves on the Teacher Advisory Council at Actors Theatre of Louisville. His work has been featured on the Main Stage at the International Thespian Festival, where Floyd Central’s production of Disney’s Newsies will be presented this summer. Robbie is a graduate of Indiana University.
My decision to produce The Hunchback of Notre Dame with my students was driven as much by the life lessons they could learn from the story as it was by the opportunity it would give them to grow as artists. I consider it my responsibility to develop my students into empathetic and thoughtful young people …Read More
When the Disney animated film The Hunchback of Notre Dame premiered in 1996, its score was hailed by critics as some of the best work by composer Alan Menken and Stephen Schwartz. Twenty years later, Menken and Schwartz returned to their score and expanded it for the stage, this time bringing it closer to the tone and themes of the classic novel by Victor Hugo.
The stage musical features a Choir, present onstage throughout the show, very much the way the cathedral looms above the world of the novel.
Even professional artists may find the show musically challenging, but the results are well worth the effort put in to master this score. Due to the amount of music and the level of difficulty (including several songs in foreign languages), music directors may want to budget a few more weeks of rehearsal than usual for a musical. Here are some tips and strategies to maximize whatever time you have and set you up for success:
Archbishop Stepanic High School (White Plains, NY)
1. CHARACTER ASSIGNMENTS IN THE SCORE
Since there are several different ensembles (or combinations of ensembles) throughout the show, the libretto utilizes the following nomenclature to help you along the way.
Congregation: a troupe of storytellers, who serve as narrators; performers from this ensemble will become the principal characters, Gargoyles, Statues, Revelers, Soldiers, etc.
Congregant: solo member of the Congregation
Congregants: a small group from within the Congregation
Choir: a group of performers separate from the Congregation
All: both the Choir and Congregation singing together
“The musical features a Choir, present onstage throughout the show, very much the way the cathedral looms above the world of the novel.”
2. THE CHOIR
The Choir is an integral part of the show and should be treated more as a character than an extension of the orchestra.
When casting your Choir, consider how this production can act as a bridge between your school’s theater and choral programs, strengthening each while encouraging collaboration between different student groups; or, how it can be an opportunity to partner with and learn about other performing arts organizations in your community.
Jesuit High School (Portland, OR)
3. VOCAL WARM-UPS
The ranges required for both the Congregation and Choir are about two to two-and-a-half octaves. In order to stay vocally healthy while singing this material, it is vital that performers incorporate a vocal warm-up into their routine. Use passages from the score or simple scale exercises to prepare for the rehearsal ahead. While in rehearsal, encourage singers to “mark” or sing at half-voice when they are learning notes and rhythms. This will help them preserve those high notes for when they’re needed most and alleviate vocal strain.
Jesuit High School (Portland, OR)
4. PERFORMING WITH AN ORCHESTRA
Michael Starobin had the rare opportunity to orchestrate this score for the animated film, the first stage adaptation in Berlin in 1999, and this new stage version. The orchestration for The Hunchback of Notre Dame requires 14 players, plus conductor, as follows:
Menken and Schwartz have created a dynamic score where your cast and orchestra can perform in styles as varied as Gregorian chant (“Olim”), Broadway ensemble (“Topsy Turvy”), Wagnerian opera (“Hellfire” and “Kyrie Eleison”) and contemporary pop (“In a Place of Miracles”).
For more information about The Hunchback of Notre Dame visit the show page.
When the Disney animated film The Hunchback of Notre Dame premiered in 1996, its score was hailed by critics as some of the best work by composer Alan Menken and Stephen Schwartz. Twenty years later, Menken and Schwartz returned to their score and expanded it for the stage, this time bringing it closer to the …Read More
In the collaborative art of musical theater, there truly is a part for everyone! While not every student enjoys tap dancing and singing solos, theater can appeal to all types of learners and engage a variety of skills. Because of its collaborative nature, your musical is a fantastic way to bring a community together. Here are a few tips to engage your entire school community:
1. Community Night
Many hands make light work! With sets to build, costumes to sew, and programs to fold, there is no shortage of work when producing a school play. Host a community night to help check it all off your to-do list. Invite parents and community members to paint the set, fit costumes and enjoy a sneak peak of a song from your show.
2. Fundraising Group
Organize a group of students and put them in charge of raising funds to keep your theater program sustainable. Students can sell ads in the show program or playbill, organize bake sales, and sell concessions to help fundraise for future productions.
3. Marketing & Publicity Crew
Drum up excitement for your production by engaging a group of students as the marketing team. Students can work in groups to create posters, promotional videos, online blogs, and social media posts to promote your show.
4. Stage Crew
Many students prefer the challenge and responsibilities backstage to performing. Capitalize on this enthusiasm by creating a student stage crew. Backstage responsibilities can include operating the curtain, orchestrating scene changes, managing props and costumes, and operating lights and sound.
5. House Staff
You’re in the entertainment business, so hospitality is a must! Recruit students and parent volunteers to serve as ushers, ticket takers, and box office representatives for your show. This group of students and adults is responsible for ensuring a smooth audience experience at each performance and can additionally be responsible for creating your show’s program and tickets.
In the collaborative art of musical theater, there truly is a part for everyone! While not every student enjoys tap dancing and singing solos, theater can appeal to all types of learners and engage a variety of skills. Because of its collaborative nature, your musical is a fantastic way to bring a community together. Here …Read More
Get the word out: There’s a role for everyone in the theater! Take time to build your musical theater program through active recruitment. Here are a few ideas:
1. Hold a pre-audition workshop where you teach everyone an audition song and some fun choreography. This is a great way to introduce kids to the audition process without all the pressure of an actual audition.
2. Offer a backstage tour and a technical theater workshop, then recruit your stage crew from the kids who show interest.
3. There’s nothing like a personal invitation. Simply approaching a student and saying, “I really think you’d have a great time in our upcoming musical – will you audition?” can really make a difference.
4. Have your students perform a number from last year’s production at an assembly, the mall or any place families gather. Hand out flyers announcing your auditions for this year’s show.
Get the word out: There’s a role for everyone in the theater! Take time to build your musical theater program through active recruitment. Here are a few ideas: 1. Hold a pre-audition workshop where you teach everyone an audition song and some fun choreography. This is a great way to introduce kids to the audition …Read More