One of America’s most beloved musicals, “The Music Man” by Meredith Willson, takes place in Iowa in 1912, not a location or an era you’d expect for local elementary school students to readily identify with. However, with expert guidance from Maclay School’s Cindy Thomas, emerging actors in second through fifth grades have learned to stretch their theatrical muscles and inhabit characters from a century ago. “We talk about the time period and the language in this show. Some of the lines are so cute, ‘geezle petes’ and ‘oh, swell.’ That’s a bad word,” said Thomas.
The students were entirely unfamiliar with the musical which, in many ways, was an advantage. “They had no idea so they didn’t have any pre-conceived notions. It inspired their imagination. They’re a big part of how they want to present their characters and how they want to dress. I let them make those creative choices.”
Thomas nurtures a lot of creative choices as the lower school and upper school drama teacher.
She extends herself even further by sponsoring Company, the upper school’s thespian troupe and serves as the cochair of the Fine Arts department. In many ways it’s not surprising that Thomas is so devoted to her work at Maclay.
She’s an alumna and, with an extensive background in theater, she can relate to her elementary students’ burgeoning love of the art form.
“It started when I was about their age. I grew up at Young Actors Theater and I went to New York and saw ‘Annie’ for the first time. I fell in love with it. It was a moment in my life where it clicked.” She went on to study theater in Philadelphia and at FSU, later taking to the stage in New York and doing television in Los Angeles. She came back to Tallahassee and began teaching at Maclay in 1997.
“We’re so lucky at Maclay that every lower school student has drama as part of their curriculum and students in the second through fifth grades get to participate in an annual musical,” said Thomas. Another unique aspect of the drama program is that “each class puts on their own performance instead of it being the whole lower school. It gives more children an opportunity to play a part.”
That means Thomas is working with 12 different casts which allows her more time with each individual to celebrate small victories.
“I love it when you see that child, all of a sudden, make that connect and a little light goes on,” Thomas said. “They just shine. Just to see their passion come out and how creative they are.
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