Decorating for a Concert in the Gym
At my school we have our musical performances in the gym. Not on a stage that’s connected to the gym, just in the open gym. Our student population is large, we don’t have a stage big enough for all the kids, and we just don’t have the option of having this performance at our local high school auditorium. So, we do our best to dress up the gym as a performance space and we pack in parents, grandparents, and community members for a performance.
Singing and performing music in a gym comes with its own set of issues, but in this blog post I’m going to talk about some of the ways you decorate and organize so that your performance in the gym looks amazing. You don’t have to create over-the-top backdrops with outrageous props to have a successful performance. Sometimes it just require a few little adaptations to make your performance really shine.
I’m including pictures and images from my recent concert called “Commotion in the Ocean.” This show was based on the book by the same name written by Giles Andreae and David Wojtowycz. We used the book to drive the performance with songs and dances interspersed between the poems from the book. If you’d like to learn more about all the songs, resources, and extras that I used in this concert check out this live video I shared which is all about the concert.
Map of the Gym – Where to Sit to See Your Kid
One thing that I include for all my concerts is a map of the gym. I try to make very clear where students are going to stand so that parents have an idea about where to sit so that they can see their kid. I used to hear from frustrated parents that they couldn’t see their child or that they weren’t able to get a good photo. So, now I include this simple map so that parents can make a strategic decision about where they sit.
To create my “map of the gym” I took a big rolling whiteboard and positioned where each class would stand in the gym. I printed out name cards for each homeroom teacher and taped those up on the whiteboard so that parents could easily find the teacher that matches their student. This process isn’t perfect, but it’s a start to help parents know where to go.
One more thing I always do BEFORE concerts is give parents two minutes to go and take pictures. After all the students file into the gym in their concert finest I say a quick hello and then tell parents they’ll have a very brief window to get up and go take pictures. They can get as close as they want and take photos of their student on the risers in their nice clothes with the scenery/backdrop. I also mention that they can stay AFTER the show and take pictures really close to the backdrop if they want.
Why do I give them these two minutes to take photos? I used to have parents coming up DURING the performances to take photos and that was just frustrating for everyone involved. Giving them an opportunity to take photos before the performance gets some of that photo energy out of their system and also gives them a chance to get their cheesy photo op. It only takes a minute or two and really helps to cut down on parents interrupting the performance later. Totally worth it!
National Standards for Music – Pirate Style
Whenever we have a performance I always try and use the event as a platform for music advocacy. In one way or another I always try and include the national standards for music education. Sometimes I’ll include them on the printed program or project up the standards that we’re addressing on the slideshow that goes with the performance. I want parents to know that we have national music standards, we work to address each one, and that their kids are doing more than just singing and dancing.
For this concert I printed off some pirate-themed posters that share the national standards for music education and put them on a bulletin board right outside the gym. For these posters I took some “I CAN” statements and reworked them to sound like what a pirate might say. Instead of “I CAN sing alone and with others,” it because “We ARRRRRGH going to sing alone and with others.”
I didn’t go overboard (pun intended) with this bulletin board since it usually holds the PE standards/announcements and I was only using it for the concert. Simple border and streamers were all I needed. Parents stopped to look at the images and got a kick out of the pirate language. Here’s a blog post all about the Pirate-themed I CAN statements. I’ll also include a link to the resource on TPT in case you want to get them for your classroom.
Decorating the Gym Wall – Student Creations
I do not overdecorate for concerts. I’ve never been in a building/school where elaborate decorations were possible. In my first teaching job we had to have our concerts at the nearby high school and were only allowed in about 45 minutes before the performance. At others places where I’ve worked we had our performances in the gym, a gym that was used for PE every day including the day of the performance. Creating elaborate decorations has just not been an option.
Instead of creating over-the-top scenery and decorations I opt for images and objects that enhance what we’re doing in the performance and are easy to create/maintain. The only sort of physical prop we use are trees. We have had Christmas Trees donated to the school and I cover those in white garland for holiday shows or forest/woodland concert themes. I try to create or purchase things that can be taped to the back of the gym wall or stand freely in the gym. There are a lot of great things you can do with printed out images, words, or letters.
What I really love to use are student-created objects, images, and projects. For this ocean-themed concert I used the kids to help create huge fish to go on the back wall of the gym. Kids were given a fish scale and were asked to color it in any way that they wanted. On the day of the concert with the guidance of our art teacher, staff members at my school layered the fish scales on the wall and affixed them with masking tape. The art teacher took some butcher paper to make fins and a fish head which completed the image.
The student-created fish were really the focal point of the wall, but we added a few more elements to fill out the scene. Our PE teacher came up with the idea of filling opaque trash bags and using streamers to make little jellyfish. She also figured out a way to make seaweed and bubbles out of butcher paper. Put it all together and you have really dynamic and student-created decorations that can go up in a little less than an hour.
There was nothing in this “set” that couldn’t be purchased by a school or even pulled out of a supply closet. The fish scales were printed on white copy paper and colored in by students. The trash bags, colored paper, and streamers for the jellyfish were either found in our supply closet or donated by other teachers. Colored butcher paper accounted for almost all of the rest of the decorations. Nothing crazy and nothing you couldn’t do in your own space!
There are a hundred different ways to decorate for a concert and make your performance night special. I hope this blog post gave you a few ideas of how you could spiff up your gym (or any performance space). If you’d like a few more ideas about preparing for concerts please check out my “Concerts” custom category to find more blog posts that might interest you.