Partner School Focus: Abbottston Elementary Ends the School Year with School-Wide Musical “Rats!: The Story of the Pied Piper”

The auditorium was filled with parents and students last week at Abbottston Elementary School for the performance of “Rats!” organized by music teacher Ariel Wirsching.  Abbottsston Elementary is an Arts Every Day Partner School who has throughout the school year benefited from various opportunities for arts integration in the classrooms.  The end of the year performance was a culmination of Ms. Wirsching’s hard work and dedication to ensuring the students at Abbottston have an arts rich experience in school.  See what Ariel Wirsching has to say about how schools programs and arts integration influenced and inspired “Rats”-


School-wide musicals are very special because they involve every child in the school and every staff member is crucial to making it work, from making allowances for extra rehearsals, to rehearsing in the classroom, moving children on and off stage and getting students dressed and ready. I selected the musical ‘Rats!: The Story of the Pied Piper’ by Dave and Jean Perry because I knew I could make connections between theater, art, music, dance and literacy.

All of the classes watched previous musical performances at Abbottston and we critiqued the performances together, discussing what we feel went well and making specific plans for improvement. For example, every class agreed that transitions to and from the stage needed to go more smoothly so we agreed that we would work to move quickly and quietly. We read several versions of the original fairy tale and I tailored the lessons for each grade level to match what was age-appropriate and what literacy skills I knew they needed to practice. Second Grade does a fairy tales unit every year so they had a great time comparing the different versions of the story and making connections. The younger grades compared musicals with opera and we discussed the similarities and differences between opera and musicals. In Music class, we watched another fairy tale based opera performance, Humperdinck’s ‘Hansel and Gretel’. Third Grade used what they learned during their residency with SOLE Defined to choreograph their own tap dance routine to their class’s song, “Ain’t It Great to Be a Rat?”.  Students in Fourth and Fifth Grade focused on learning about stage production and theater terms such as ‘stage right’ and ‘downstage’ and worked together to plan and discuss staging for the musical. This later led to learning about what careers are possible in the arts and reflection about their personal goals and goals for the future. 

The set was made entirely out of cardboard boxes that the students collected. Students took turns making the posters for the musical, which were then displayed in the hallways. Students also brought in several of their own personal items to lend to others to use as props. The students had an excellent time with this show and I think it showed in their performance. Students in 3rd, 4th and 5th Grade can audition for individual roles. This year more students auditioned for speaking roles than ever before. Students who did not audition knew that they would still be in the musical as a chorus member. This feels safe for a lot of students who are nervous about performing and many enjoy the experience so much that they end up auditioning the next year!

As the Music teacher and the Arts Integration Coach at Abbottston, it is my goal to facilitate as many arts integrated learning experiences as possible and to provide students many opportunity to develop in the arts. They love being treated as professionals, knowing that their artistic opinions are valid and that they are taken seriously. Positive experiences in the arts spur more curiosity about topics we cover during our musical that students then feel compelled to investigate on their own, and many more students get excited about auditioning for speaking roles and inviting their family members to shows. Our annual Spring musical has become an exciting event for everyone in our school community and I look forward to continuing our tradition!

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