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Solving a Real Problem: The "Working" Collaboration

When rehearsals started for the Upper School fall musical, Working, director and Upper School English and psychology teacher Lori Barnett and her cast noted that the script required some adaptations to make it appropriate for a family audience. Moreover, as Ms. Barnett explained to the cast, any changes would have to be approved by Working’s composer and lyricist Stephen Schwartz, who is also known for writing Godspell, Pippin, and Wicked.

“I could have just made the changes myself and sent them in,” Ms. Barnett said. “But then I realized that there was a critical opportunity for students to learn themselves: How can we be sensitive to our audience while maintaining the integrity of the playwright’s intent?”

The students were excited to solve the problem and engaged in animated discussions about everything from what was appropriate for their audience to what a character would feel natural saying in a given situation.

“The most difficult aspect about revising the script was trying to keep the general idea of the scene the same while changing the language and sometimes the attitude of the characters,” Kira McNeill ‘20 said.

The students spent one whole rehearsal discussing the rationale for revisions, and the impact of them on performance. Ms. Barnett sent the proposed changes and an explanation to Stephen Schwartz. Then they waited.

Finally, almost two weeks later, the cast received an email from Stephen Schwartz who commented on the suggestions and approved all of the changes. He even told Ms. Barnett and the students that he thought one of the additions was funnier and more in keeping with what he intended for the character. Kira said, "When Stephen Schwartz wrote back explaining that our changes were excellent and that the whole cast made smart changes, the work felt really satisfying.”

“Though I love the experience of pure direction, first and foremost, I am a teacher,” Ms. Barnett said. “Working is a musical about the individuality of the American worker and the shared experience of people working together. I could not have asked for a more fitting way to combine my two roles at The Gregory School with the theme of the show. All problems– from set design to choreography– are collaborative efforts between my students and me. When golden opportunities or teachable moments like this occur, I have to relinquish my control and let the students lead the way.”

Working will be performed October 24 and 25 at 7:00 pm in the Donald R. Nickerson Performing Arts Center.

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