Theater as Digital Activity (TADA)

TADA was a remarkable program that engaged hundreds of children from around the world to create new musical theater.

It used online collaboration—live chats, electronic bulletin boards, email and interactive web sites—to bring individual children and classrooms together with each other and with theater professionals who turned their ideas into a fully-staged professional production.

Children, some isolated by illness or geography, expressed their hopes, fears, and visions for the future. They were involved in all facets of the shows’ creation, including research, characterization, plot development, and the writing of the dialogue, lyrics, and music.

TADA was a program of of Childrens Musical Theater San José (CMTSJ) from 1998–2003, and produced five shows.

Richard was commissioned to write three shows as part of TADA:

  • 2101, a full-length musical about life 100 years in the future
  • A Little Princess, the fourth new TADA musical, and the first adaptation, and
  • Persephone, a show about the goddess of the underworld in Greek mythology.

References to TADA have been removed CMTSJ’s web site. There’s a little bit of information about 2101 at the Digital Performance Archive site.

The following has been re-posted from its original location with permission of the Virtual Volunteering Project, part of the RGK Center for Philanthropy and Community Service, at the University of Texas at Austin’s LBJ School of Public Affairs.

The following article refers to San Josť Children’s Musical Theater (SJCMT), which was correct when the article was written; they have since changed their name to Childrens Musical Theater San José (CMTSJ).

San Jose Children's Musical Theatre   The Theater as Digital Activity (TADA) program at San Josť Children’s Musical Theater is a perfect example of an organization fully and successfully integrating virtual volunteering and online service delivery into what it already does well.

by Tegan McLane, Theater as Digital Activity (TADA) Coordinator

The first TADA project took place over a whole year: 45 young people throughout the U.S. with serious illnesses and disabilities and linked via ConvoNation worked online with the San Josť Children’s Musical Theater (SJCMT). They shared fears and frustrations with young actors in San Josť, the theater artistic director Kevin Hauge, and playwright and TADA coordinator Tegan McLane.

The result was Pulse, the Rhythm of Life, an original musical which premiered in May 1998 in San Josť, with young actors protraying characters that were “a mosaic of wounded, hurting kids whose loneliness is lessed by a keyboard and the knowledge that other children similarly suffer,” according to a feature article in the San José Mercury News.

Just before the production was launched, Tegan noted, “The new virtual component allows us to be even more inclusive, welcoming kids who are isolated by sickness or geographic distance and sharing the magic of theater with them.” SJCMT is committed to providing excellent, accessible musical theater training for youth, with high-quality performances for families and the entire community. TADA is an extension of this endeavor, and is already working on more computer-born, collaborative stage shows.

“Our second project is called OUR TREE: The Family Chronicles and we’ll be working online with students around the country to write another original musical, premiering in the year 2000,” Tegan added.

“Our online participants, who are mostly junior high, high school and college age kids, are considered both clients and volunteers. The kids contribute ideas to our original musicals via the internet, email and live chats.”

TADA has an outline of OUR TREE: The Family Chronicles posted on its web site, and is inviting feedback from online volunteers about these scenes. The countdown for TADA’s third original musical inspired by youth online begins in the Fall of 1999 as well. The new show will be set in the year 2101 and online contributors will offer suggestions about what the world will be like a hundred years from now.

They also incorporate volunteer involvement with regular season shows at SJCMT. Each week until the production, Director Kevin Hauge and members of his production team pose research questions and invite input on certain aspects of the show. For example, during the first week, as Kevin plans the staging for Eva’s funeral scene, the online volunteer dramaturgs were asked to use the Internet to uncover details about Eva Peron’s funeral, including any special customs or state funeral traditions, decor and who was in attendance. “The site is available in both English and Spanish, thanks to the dedicated work of our volunteer translators,” says Tegan. A SJCMT parent heads the translation team, with additional support from a Spanish student in Florida who is volunteering online.

SJCMT also involves volunteers virtually in HTML programming (one online volunteer designs and produces all of the theater’s performance programs) , and uses its web site to recruit volunteers for offline tasks. The theater has started doing two monthly e-mail newsletters—one for kids and one for adults (and all volunteers).

SJCMT/TADA is exploring ways for parents whose work prevents them from volunteering onsite to be able to volunteer virtually.

Tegan prepared detailed information to help other organizations wanting to work with volunteers and clients via chat rooms, based on her own experiences with TADA. This information focuses on the human aspects that make such interactions successful, rather than the technology. The VV Project combined this information with other material for a chat resource page.