The fifth and sixth class boys from St Tola’s NS before the show.

‘From page to stage’ – musical theatre for schools at arts centre

The musical theatre programme for schools is one of the outstanding success stories at Mullingar Arts Centre, and it has grown from eight schools when it began to more than 30 now.

It is a 15-week project that incorporates dance, singing and drama and it is available to rural and urban schools in Westmeath, though there have been some from further afield.

In the last week of the current run one (between September and February), arts centre director, Sean Lynch told the Westmeath Examiner about the project. St Tola’s NS were performing on the night.

“The musicals in the schools project was initiated eight years ago with the idea of helping schools that couldn’t stage a musical, to do so in the local hall or similar. We did it in eight schools and three of them had no local halls, so they performed at the arts centre – and the experience they had here was far better, so we decided then after that to move the project in here.

“So, from starting with eight schools eight years ago, this year 32 schools took part, from as far away as Melview, on the other side of Longford and Johnstownbridge in Kildare, Baconstown, Kildalkey, County Meath – and we have seven applications from outside the county for next year.”

Sean said that school principals report that the musical theatre programme is among the best things they’ve experienced from point of view of their schools.

The team at the arts centre endeavour to accommodate all schools who express an interest; for example, they have had Crowenstown and Emper; Horseleap and Rosemount; and Emper and Moyvore schools combine efforts as they were too small to put the show on individually.

Sean said the programme is designed to help children develop their artistic, creative and physical skills. It also allows them to move from page to stage. “I think it’s the best thing the arts centre has ever done. It allows children to participate with a fairly high production value show.

“We send two tutors out over a period of 15 weeks to the schools to prepare them for the song, dance and drama, and then they come in here, early in the morning, so they have a full day here, and we give them costumes, full lights, sound, special effects, big sets – for example, the set for Oliver takes an adult crew of eight.

“All told, it’s a worthwhile thing; the schools contribute to it and recoup their costs on the door, so it doesn’t cost them anything, and that is thanks to Mullingar Panto Group, who put more than €30,000 into it, which is the cost from the arts centre point of view. Without their support, it wouldn’t happen, and it allows us provide a theatrical experience that the schools wouldn’t otherwise have.”