High school musicals in Queensland

Collings, Paul (1999). High school musicals in Queensland PhD Thesis, School of English, Media Studies and Art History, The University of Queensland.

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Author Collings, Paul
Thesis Title High school musicals in Queensland
School, Centre or Institute School of English, Media Studies and Art History
Institution The University of Queensland
Publication date 1999
Thesis type PhD Thesis
Supervisor -
Total pages 478
Language eng
Subjects 190407 Music Performance
740200 Secondary Education
Formatted abstract High School musicals represent a substantial proportion of Australia's theatrical activity in any given year. They are widely accepted and acknowledged by school hierarchies and by the community at large, but receive virtually no attention from arts establishments or the academic world.

Because of constraints of time and space, the research for this study has been restricted to school musical activity in Queensland. The sample, however, is extensive enough to allow its conclusions to be extrapolated Australia-wide with a reasonable expectation of accuracy. It is estimated that a minimum of 800 Australian secondary schools stage musicals each year, and nearly half of these are Australian-written. School musicals represent a significant form of genuinely demotic theatre, in which some 50,000 young people perform each year for an audience in excess of one million.

The study consists of two parts. The empirical section of the study explores the reasons why schools commit themselves to the considerable amount of work and stress associated with a full-scale production. It then presents historical data concerning the activities of 241 Queensland secondary schools, detailing 1,904 confirmed productions of 406 different musicals. 185 of these musicals are Australian-written, and the study examines the transitional processes from school concerts to staging imported musicals (with an examination of the 'Annual Gilbert & Sullivan' production), with particular emphasis on the development of the need to create 'local' musicals for production in schools.

The study traces the remarkable growth in the number of Australian musicals staged in the last two decades and identifies the major writers and marketing organisations in the field. In proportional terms, Australian musicals accounted for 7% of all confirmed productions to 1977, and 41.5 % of all confirmed productions since then.

The second part of the study analyses texts of 92 Australian-written musicals which are offered for production in schools and explores the dramaturgical and theatrical devices which they employ in order to have the maximum impact on their market, and the ways in which they differ from more traditional products. The principal factor identified in these musicals is a complex set of strategies which can be grouped as expressing irreverence — not towards their subject matter or their social milieu — but towards the very concept of staging a theatrical performance. The majority of custom-written school musicals display features which represent a systematic and highly disciplined refusal to be serious about the processes of presenting themselves.

The concept of irreverence is explored and developed in detail, with particular reference to its appeal to teenage values and to its usefulness in protecting young and often inexperienced participants from the personal and emotional exposures associated with performing in public. The relationship which irreverence establishes between the performers and their audience plays a critical role in this, and is significantly divergent from more conventional theatrical modes. The study analyses the application of this principle to thematic content, dramatic structure, characterisation, staging, plots and comedy styles.

Irreverence concerns itself with holding up the logically absurd conventions of theatricality, especially those which are peculiar to musical theatre, and using them to demonstrate that the production is not to be evaluated as serious or meaningful 'art', but is instead an exercise in complex but cheerful enjoyment for both performers and audience. School musicals demand an enormous amount of work and dedication to stage, and they have developed a highly idiosyncratic set of strategies for making this arduous process fun for all concerned.
Keyword Musicals -- Queensland
Additional Notes The author has given permission for this thesis to be made open access.

 
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