We were approached at the start of September with a very unique project, and a very tight deadline. Both excite us here at Stage Invaders HQ, so without needing to hear too much more, we were set to get cracking!
A SEN School in South Yorkshire asked us to write a Christmas musical for them, which would truly excite their young performers, whilst also being accessible to a range of needs.
Here is the brief we received:
A 25 minute production
Up to 20 speaking parts
No more than 2-3 lines per character (with the exception of the Narrator who could have up to 10)
To be staged on a minimal budget
An original story
Ready to begin practicing from October
At first glance there are elements which would make the work seem pretty straightforward. After all, 25 minutes for a whole show means dialogue can be kept to a minimum. But then how do you tell a well-rounded, fully formed story in what amounts to about 10-12 minutes (when you take the songs out)?
We had a back-and-forth with story ideas that would allow for quick-fire scenes, and settled on the idea of a school class project to write the perfect Christmas song.
In our story, the class teacher sets a project for all the children to get in groups, and write a song that encapsulates the true spirit of Christmas. So off the children go, with one group deciding a song about Christmas dinner is the best choice, the second group choosing presents as the most applicable topic, and the third group writing about their Christmas tree. Each group bumps into a mentor figure who advises them they may not quite have the right idea, but they carry on regardless.
After the 3 songs are heard the class realise that one child was left out of their groups. Poor Sophie was left all alone to create a song by herself. Lo and behold she comes up with the best of the bunch; a song to perfectly capture the spirit of the season. And everyone sings it together.
Given that the children at the school possess a wide range of abilities, we created a range of songs which would offer a variety of challenges. There are 6 in total, with some being very simple, maximising use of repetition and easy-to-learn melody, whilst others are more akin to traditional pop songs with a verse, chorus, verse, chorus, bridge, chorus structure.
We did not want to leave anybody feeling excluded, but we also wanted to ensure there was a challenge for those wanting to push themselves a bit more.
We also included vocals which catered to lower and higher voices, as the school is made up of students from 7 to 16 years-of-age and so has a split of soprano, baritone, bass etc.
Here are a couple of song samples. The first represents a simpler style of song, and the second is more in line with what we would normally create. Both still feature our usual blend of electronic and standard instrumentation to offer a contemporary feel.
So off we went, writing at a furious pace, with song ideas being created and considered at a pace unlike anything we’ve experienced before. The general rule is that a full production (including all staging, script, song and design elements) takes 3 months from start to finish, but A Song for Christmas has been completed in just over 2 weeks!
Needless to say we are hugely proud of this achievement. It is our hope that the school and its performers truly enjoy producing A Song for Christmas. If it’s as big a hit as we all hope, we will ensure to make it available to all schools next year.