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Tryouts are Terrific

Carmen Kamrath

Months after the holidays are over, I find myself singing songs from our Christmas musical. They pop into my head sporadically, bringing me back to the evening when more than 100 kids touched the hearts of the many people who watched them sing. My understanding of the impact of the experience is reinforced every time I hear my daughters recall the fun they had performing and the friendships that began and grew during the many rehearsals. I think the musicals I've been part of throughout the years have been wonderful experiences for the kids involved-even though and perhaps because each musical involved tryouts.

Tryouts for a musical or play at church can be a good experience if they're conducted in the right way. In fact, tryouts are a key ingredient for assuring a successful performance that kids will enjoy and learn from. Tryouts ensure quality, develop leaders, and build team.

• Ensure quality. Musicals and other performances are a lot of work for the director and the participants. No one wants to put in all that work and end up with a poor production. In addition, many churches use performances as opportunities to reach out to the community. Neither kids nor directors want to invest time and energy into a mediocre performance. That's why tryouts are necessary.

When a musical score requires individual parts and solos, it's important to have kids who are up to the task in these key roles. Churches often forego auditions and fill special parts with the same reliable kids or give the role to the child whose parents are convinced their son or daughter is a gifted performer. So every year, the same kids get the parts. By offering auditions, however, you give all children a chance to exhibit their talents. You also guarantee that you have children in roles they're capable of doing.

• Develop leaders. Our Christmas musical auditions enticed a quiet girl who was at Sunday school every week to try out for a part. She landed the lead role. This gal who barely spoke in class blossomed into a leader, a role model for the younger kids, and an encourager for every child involved. She was an example of a child serving God with the gifts she had been given. Had we not conducted an audition, this quiet, talented child may've stayed in the shadows, and the entire cast and audience would've missed out on her leadership and example.

• Build team. Celebrating the accomplishments of everyone involved creates a sense of unity and teamwork. A quarterback may seem to have the lead role on a football team, but he couldn't throw a touchdown pass without the defensive line supporting him and without the receiver to catch the pass. In the same manner, a musical can't be successful with only one or two people. Although several children may be selected to dramatize the story or sing solos, the entire cast carries the show.

When directing a musical production, use these tips during tryouts, rehearsals, and your performance to ensure that every child plays an important role.

• Talk with children about what an audition is. Before you conduct auditions, talk with kids about what an audition is and the purpose for an audition. Stress that the cast plays an integral and important part in the musical -- not just the kids who get specific parts. Let kids and parents know up front what the time commitment will be, and have them complete an audition form that clearly explains the expectations of kids who receive specific parts.

• Use unbiased selectors. As someone who works with the kids at your church every week, you can't help but be biased toward some children. Ask other children's ministry directors in your community, a local music teacher, or college students to help with auditions. Using selectors outside of your church is assurance to those auditioning that you aren't playing favorites.

• Affirm each child who auditions. Have kids audition in groups of four or five, and have their peer audience clap and cheer after each tryout. This is a great way to see how a child performs in front of peers and an audience. Although an audition can be frightening for some, it's also a confidence booster. I've witnessed many kids who didn't get a part but were thrilled that they made it through the audition and excited about doing another in the future.

When kids finish their auditions, give each of them something that celebrates their accomplishment. At one audition, I gave each child a star cutout that said "Way to Go!" along with a candy treat.

• Cast everyone in a role. Don't let any child walk away feeling cut from the program. Find a role for each child even if it's being part of the choir, stage crew, lighting crew, or other necessary role in the production. Tryouts may exclude children from certain parts, but they never have to exclude them completely.

• Choreograph and costume the entire cast. Having a costume for each child helps kids know that they're an important part of the cast. Costumes can be as simple as blue jeans and a red T-shirt. Develop choreography or motions for each song so the cast members don't feel as though they're only providing background music. Have different groups of kids come up front to help with leading the motions at each rehearsal.

• Give the cast a name. For our Christmas musical, the entire cast was called The Christmas Candy Kids so kids actually had a stage name instead of just "the choir."

• Include every name in the program. Place each child's name in the performance program so they have a momento of their hard work and an acknowledgement that their role was important.

• Celebrate the entire cast. Musical directors will often single out children by giving only those with special parts gifts or recognition. Instead, have a celebration party for your entire cast and their families immediately following your performance. Give each child a small gift in appreciation for his or her hard work and dedication. At Christmas, we gave every cast member a bookmark with the legend of the candy cane printed on it.

Tryouts aren't a bad thing. They're simply tools to help your children serve God with excellence by identifying and using their gifts. When you use tryouts, always celebrate each child and the unique gifts and talents he or she brings to your program. It's not the individuals who speak the loudest; it's the group as a whole who shouts loudly and ministers to the audience through one voice that's all in one accord. cm

Carmen Kamrath is Web editor for childrensministry.com.

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