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Waa-Mu Students Share Tips for Writing Musicals

Free, in-school workshops now available to third through eighth graders

EVANSTON, Ill. --- For more than 80 years, Northwestern University students have presented the Waa-Mu Show, which today remains one of America’s largest student-written musicals. This year, Waa-Mu’s talented undergraduate cast and creative team is sharing its knowledge of the skills involved in writing and producing a musical with elementary and middle school students in Evanston and other nearby communities.

In February, Northwestern undergraduates conducted free musical writing workshops at Attea Middle School in Glenview, Marie Murphy Middle School in Wilmette and at Evanston’s Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Laboratory School. The workshops incorporated much of what the undergraduates have learned from their own experience conceiving and producing the upcoming 2013 Waa Mu Show.

Additional workshops are currently planned for more schools in the Evanston area prior to the first 2013 Waa-Mu Show performance in early May. Interested area schools are encouraged to visit or email for information about booking free Waa-Mu musical workshops at their schools.

Called “Flying Home: Down the Rabbit Hole, Over the Rainbow, and Straight On Till Morning,” the 2013 show runs from May 3 to 12 at Cahn Auditorium, 600 Emerson St. on Northwestern’s Evanston campus. Tickets are $5 to $30 and go on sale to the public Thursday, March 7. To buy tickets, call the Theatre and Interpretation Center at Northwestern University box office at (847) 491-7282 or visit

“Flying Home” combines the classic stories of “The Wizard of Oz,” “Alice in Wonderland” and “Peter Pan” into a single compelling story, according to 2013 Waa-Mu co-chair Ed Wasserman. “It imagines a world in which Wonderland, Oz and Neverland collide,” says Wasserman, a senior theatre major at the School of Communication. “What better audience than elementary and middle-schoolers to share our story with and to get thinking about the elements that make up a musical show?”

Specially tailored to the age of the students, the workshops unravel the mysteries of lyric composition, music direction, storytelling and improvisation and stress the importance of hard work. Younger students learn about song structure while older ones explore story development. “It’s incredible to see how quickly these youngsters become invested in the work we share with them,” says Northwestern senior Jesse Rothschild, a theater major and 2013 Waa-Mu co-chair.

Since its first production in 1929, the Waa-Mu Show has served as a launching pad for some of Northwestern's most talented performers, writers and set designers, including Ana Gasteyer (“Saturday Night Live,” ABC comedy “Suburgatory”), Megan Mullally (TV sitcom “Will & Grace,” NBC’s “Parks and Recreation”) Zach Braff  (“Scrubs” and this year’s Disney film “Oz: The Great and Powerful”) and Broadway star Heather Headley (“The Lion King,” “Aida). In recent years, its format has transitioned from a musical revue to a musical play (or “book musical”) integrating song and dance into a well-conceived dramatic story.

“Our workshops for young students are not only designed to build excitement for the upcoming production,” says Waa-Mu community programming director Carrie Seavoy, who is pursuing degrees at the Bienen School of Music and Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences. “They’re also an opportunity to help students understand that with a lot of effort and new knowledge they, too, can create something exciting.”