The Grinch, Willy Wonka and Buddy the Elf have been spotted at Wylie Intermediate during the last year, and Shrek will likely be running the corridors this spring.
That’s because Wylie Intermediate School’s new music teacher isn’t doing typical school music programs. She is putting on full-scale musical productions with 3rd and 4th-graders as the stars.
Cami Zimmerman came to Wylie last year, and by Christmas she had her 3rd-graders putting on a production of The Grinch. In the spring, she had her 4th-graders doing three different productions of Willy Wonka.
In December, the 3rd-grade will present two shows of Elf, and the 5th-grade will do one show of Elf in February. The 4th-grade will do three shows of Shrek this spring.
“I love doing these big productions because the kids gain so much from it,” Zimmerman said. “They love to pretend. I love that imaginary world that musicals give them. It’s an outlet.”
She said the students have had no problem taking major roles in the productions. They have no trouble remembering lines, and they love to create a character.
“It’s really just that aspect of being able to take a character and make it their own,” she said. “They just go for it. It might not be spot on, but it is so cool. They are really good with lines. Their memories are insane.”
Zimmerman’s husband bought her a sound system for her productions, and her mother – a teacher in Longview – took a year off work to help build sets. Parents pitch in with costumes and props.
“I create a wish list,” Zimmerman said. “I send it out, and within 20 hours, everything is covered. The Wylie parents are a whole other breed. They are amazing.”
The most difficult part of preparing for a musical is choosing the actors, which Zimmerman said can be very difficult. She tries to do three shows per grade when possible so more kids can play the lead roles.
“I had about 50 kids tryout for Buddy the Elf for 3rd grade,” she said. “They have to be able to act and sing. Usually it comes down to singing. It’s so hard. I am like why are you all so good. I try to spread the love.”
The Intermediate is housing half of the 5th-grade this year as they wait for next year’s move to Wylie East Junior High. Zimmerman said choosing one 5th-grader to be Buddy the Elf was very difficult, especially because those kids did Willy Wonka the year before and were veterans.
“That was incredibly hard,” she said. “My 5th-graders are on top of it. We did call backs, and people in the community came and helped me judge.”
Zimmerman said she gets help from so many people before and during a production.
“A lot of parents volunteer, and the needs are met,” she said. “The day of the play, they will come do makeup. It takes a lot of people.”
Of course, you can’t produce a musical without some problems cropping up.
“We’ve had several issues,” she said. “We had to sing a song acappella last year because my laptop froze. But they did it. We made it through. I did have a kid fall through the back of the shell, but the show must go on.”
She said the kids rarely have trouble with the lines. “They will just look at me, and I’ll cue them,” she said. “We do after school rehearsals. Their parents are so good at rehearsing them.”
Zimmerman said she hopes she is instilling a love for theater in her students and that it will feed the high school theater program. She especially likes seeing little boys who are all about sports take major roles in a production.
Both students and parents absolutely love the productions, and they also love Mrs. Z. She said she tries to get to know each and every student.
“I am so relational with the kids,” she said. “When you build a relationship with the kids, they will do anything for you. It’s so fun to see them thrive. It’s a fun job. I just love it.”