Thursday, September 12, 2019

Putting It Together: How Art Displays Enhance Musical Performances

This Carousel mural features a multicolor carnival scene.

Putting It Together 
How art displays enhance musical performances.

Keith Mason

A shorter version of this article is published in the October 2019 SchoolArts Magazine.


Many schools regularly stage musicals. Their staging invites creative art projects that can complement musicals’ themes and songs. For several years, I coordinated art projects and curriculum initiatives tied to eight high school musicals in the form of lobby displays, cafeteria displays, and projects. Linda D’Acquisto describes how students can tap into their creativity by producing museum displays. What she describes is similar to the musical-inspired displays we created in our school lobbies and cafeteria.

The first part of this article’s title was inspired by Stephen Sondheim’s song “Putting It Together” from his musical Sunday in the Park with George. The song’s lyrics describing how the “art of making art is putting it together,” serve as inspiration for us each year.
This Carousel mural features a multicolor carnival scene.

Lobby Displays

The lobby area for Carousel invited art-related projects simulating a carnival-like atmosphere. A mural backdrop outside of our auditorium featured carnival attractions including a carousel. 
The guidance office became a record store in Sweet Apple, Ohio, featuring the songs of Bye Bye Birdie

 Bye Bye Birdie, our front lobby became the fictitious town of Sweet Apple, Ohio. The guidance office was the Sweet Apple Music Shop featuring 7-inch 45 records with the various songs from the Bye Bye Birdie score. One key scene in Bye Bye Birdie takes place in the old New York Penn Station that we depicted in a mural. 
A porch in River City, Iowa, for our production of The Music Man

 The Music Man, we did projects tied to the Edwardian period including a mural of a typical house. 
The Boys from Syracusewelcome audience members near the school’s front entrance.

The Boys of Syracuse featured a Tuscan-style display. We capitalized on the Mediterranean scenery with a mural featuring an arched building with a terracotta roof and a 24-foot grapevine. The “boys” from Syracuse twin silhouettes welcomed the audience in the front lobby.
Waiters at the Harmonia Gardens featured in Hello, Dolly!

For another Americana musical, Hello, Dolly!, art displays capitalized on the 1890’s Victorian setting and the Hudson River Valley. In the back lobby, we created a silhouetted restaurant scene with the main characters. Two images of waiters flanked each side; we used waiters also on the front lobby display board. 
Sailors running to the ship for Anything Goes.
Anything Goes highlighted a cruise ship mural with portholes containing photos of key cast members. The front lobby board featured two sailor silhouettes running to the ship. Our display case featured nautical items including an authentic ship wheel.
Jack on his beanstalk, part of the cafeteria display for Into the Woods.

Into the Woods displays capitalized on fairy tales and the woods. Our back lobby featured a painted mural of the woods with fairy tale characters. People congregated there to greet cast members after performances and take photos. The display case became “the woods” with artificial trees. Cafeteria windows displayed transparencies representing stained glass windows featuring fairy tale characters.
The display case represents the Nice, France area for The Boy Friend, complete with sand, waves, white buildings, and terracotta roofs.

The Boy Friend takes place in the French Riviera. To capitalize on this setting, our display case depicted a Mediterranean-style village with white buildings and terracotta roofs. Sand served as the beach. Strips of blue, green and violet cellophane represented the sea.  A fleet of sailboats rode those waves.  Multicolored paper umbrellas were set up on the beach, and with lights, were set all around the display case. Silhouettes were used around the wall of the back lobby showing people in formal garb suggesting 1920s fashion.  
A Mediterranean-themed mural greets audience members of The Boy Friend.

Our displays over the years directly impacted thousands of audience members. Dozens of students participated in the creation of the various displays. The lobby artwork was effective in creating a successful atmosphere for people as they entered the school to attend our shows. Paint, paper, and other materials worked like magic by enhancing the overall presentation of our musical productions. Musicals can inspire artwork that transforms your school lobby or cafeteria. We did it and so can you!

I dedicate this article to the memory of my high school art teacher Richard Alan Lupo. 

Keith Mason, Ph.D. teaches Italian at New Providence High School in New Providence, New Jersey. Dr. Mason received eight Rising Star Awards for Impact from the Paper Mill Playhouse for integrating his school’s musicals into the high school curriculum. He has authored many articles about using musicals in the interdisciplinary curriculum.

Work Cited
D’Acquisto. Linda. 2006. Learning on display: Student-created museums that build understanding. Alexandria: ASCD.

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