Ollie Alkhair’s original play has taken just 12 months to go from page to stage with the support of talented parents, staff and students at St Christopher’s Catholic Primary Panania.
Ollie wrote the musical Just Spook while in Year 2 at the school. One year on, he will direct his peers in the production. Influenced by Harry Potter and the Narnia chronicles, the plot follows students Frank and Tess who graduate from a magic boarding school and evade its devious school principal as he tries to steal Tess’ all-powerful wand.
It was developed for the stage with the help of three parents from the school community. Ollie’s mum Beth lent her music composition skills to songs within the play, Gracie Madau her dance skills to choreography, and Dr Joanna Winchester her drama education skills to script development.
When you give kids the opportunity and the platform they amaze you.
Ollie, who has pursued drama and musical theatre roles outside of school, said he created speaking parts for all 37 characters in the play because he wanted the experience to be fun for everyone involved.
“I get very honoured when I have a role and it’s very fun, so I thought for everyone enjoy it and not want to drop out I’d give them all a role,” he said. “I’m a big fan of musicals and I thought I’d like to direct my own one day so I wrote this.”
Mrs Alkhair drew on her university training in music to help Ollie write songs for the play. “He wrote the beginning of each song then we sat down and worked on them together,” she said. “It was quite a process. I’m very excited but also nervous about how it is going to present on the day. Being an original we just don’t know how it is going to go.”
Principal Jamie Wahab said the level of whole-school community involvement had been inspiring.
“What excited me about the whole process was that this was real student voice – students creating and acting in a play for students,” he said. “It’s quite rare for the whole process to be driven by students. As a way of promoting creative arts at the school this is a very exciting opportunity.”
Dr Winchester, a drama education lecturer at Australian Catholic University, said the project had shown that given the right platform and support younger students were capable of things more often expected of their high school counterparts.
“Most of my work has been centred around encouraging young people to create from their own experience and ideas rather than bringing forward a pre-determined script, so when Beth told me about Ollie I jumped at the chance to help him develop this play,” she said.
“Ollie has always had a really good sense about what he wanted on stage. I needed to work with him on what was practical because the visions in his head were big production visions.
“All of the students had a really good instinctual idea of where they would stand on stage and how they would interact. They have an elective drama program at St Christopher’s so they came to the play with that experience. When you give kids the opportunity and the platform they amaze you.”
It’s quite rare for the whole process to be driven by students.
Dr Winchester said projects like Just Spook developed confidence in students on many levels and added to their wellbeing.
“Primary students have a lot to say and they’re not always given the opportunity to tell those stories,” she said.
“Being able to talk about your thoughts and feelings and have them legitimised is I think something that all creative arts can do. They offer that opportunity to teach the whole child, and to see them express their ideas in both body and voice.
“All the parents have been fantastic in bringing forth their talents to the school. I think that shows the students too that their parents care, their teachers care, and their community cares about what they can do and what they have to say.”
Second-year teaching students from ACU also supported the musical. They sourced costumes, painted sets and filmed a news report for the play while taking on a practical work placement aimed at showing what tasks teachers take on in the school setting outside of the classroom.
Just Spook is on September 21 and 22 at St Christopher’s Panania, 235 Tower Street, at 7pm. Details: firstname.lastname@example.org.