Nobody's Perfect

But a collaboration can be; what it takes to produce musical theater


Age range: Good for 7 – 12 year olds

Estimated Time: Give yourself some time! This interactive will take at 60 to 90 minutes to complete if you do the suggest activities too, if not you can watch it in about 45 minutes.

Key Technology: You can watch this on a computer—but you will need speakers (or headphones) to listen to the talking and singing.

The video in this site is fully accessible to Deaf and hearing audiences: it features options for spoken English, ASL insets and closed captioning. You will need a broadband Internet connection and the Flash 8 Player to access the site.

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In this video-driven microsite, go backstage to learn about what it took to create the Kennedy Center's first bilingual English and American Sign Language musical based on the book by Marlee Matlin and Doug Cooney. The show centers on how two very different girls, a rambunctious, deaf fourth grader and the seemingly perfect “new girl” learn to understand each other. Assigned to work together, the girls learn about each other and the importance of communication.

Think About...

Ready, Set, Learn!
Before you get started, think of what you already know about live theater. Keep this in mind as you explore the interactive. As you watch and listen, stop the video track now and then to sum up what you have learned. You may be surprised at how much ASL you may pick up in the course of viewing and reviewing this interactive.

As you watch notice how the actors change from the first read through to the final performance. Consider how they look and sound different and how the steps they took in the rehearsals made that possible.

Compare and contrast the song scene “Perfection” in the tech rehearsal and the final performance. Consider the lighting, the posture the confidence and personality of the actors and how they interact with each other. In particular, pay attention to how Alexis sings the song in each segment, what do you see that she does different or the same.

Compare and contrast the classroom scene where the girls meet Alexis for the first time in the blocking and rehearsal segments. Notice the changes there were in the process. Do you think the changes improved the story telling? If yes, in what way?

This story is downloadable- grab it for your MP3 player for repeated listening.

Here are some questions to help kick-start discussion in the classroom:

It’s Showtime!
A musical is a story performed on stage using actors, movement, dialogue, and songs. How can each of these elements help tell a story and make it more fun to watch and more memorable?

Together Everyone Achieves More
Making a musical requires a lot of collaboration. It has been said that for every actor on stage there are 50 people working behind the scenes to make theater happen. The whole team—the writer, director, actors, composer, set designer, and others—must work together. Can you explain the different ways people work together in the making of Nobody’s Perfect?

Nobody’s Perfect is a bilingual play performed in American Sign Language (ASL) and English. Don’t worry! If you don’t know ASL you can listen to one of the actors who will be speaking out loud what is being signed.

ASL is its own language, just like Spanish or French. In ASL instead of using your voice to talk, you “talk” with your hands, body and facial expressions. You can also use finger spelling to spell out a word or name when you don’t know the sign for it. Another option is lip reading when speaking with someone who doesn’t know sign, but that is hard because many words look the same when spoken. What do you think were the challenges of making a bi-lingual production? How might ASL add a new dimension to telling the story?

Name That Tune
Have you ever walked out of a show humming a song you just heard? In a musical, the songs help tell the story. The words, or lyrics, and the style of the music suggest what each song is about. Listen and watch the clips about the scene with the song “Perfection.” What is the song about? What does it tell you about the story and the characters? Can you pick a word that describes one of your friends–or yourself—and write a song? (Be sure to use your adjective at least twice! It helps if you pick one that is easy to rhyme with another word.)

Like Cats and Dogs
As you watch and listen, think about what different people like Megan and Alexis could learn from each other and what the title “Nobody’s Perfect” means.

We may think that communication is easy between people who speak the same language, but gender, social, economic, developmental and cultural differences can affect communication and understanding just as speaking another language does. How can we use ideas we learned from bi-lingual communication to enhance mono-lingual storytelling?

A set designer must help the audience imagine the different places the musical takes place. Watch the clip “Setting the Stage.” In it, the set designer talks about the difficulties of creating sets that can be used for a lot of different scenes, including a hamster maze. What do you think about his solution? What solution might you have chosen?

What do you think?

Consider the following reflection questions, or think of your own ideas.

  1. What do you think you learned from using this interactive?
  2. What do you understand now about all that is involved in making a stage play?
  3. What will you think about the next time you watch a play or a movie now that you know this?
  4. Did this interactive help you to see how many ways there are to tell a story?
  5. Can you think of another way to tell a story that was not mentioned in the interactive?

Possible Answers:

  1. I learned that it takes a lot of people and a lot of work to make a play.
  2. It was easy to understand when everyone talked about their jobs that everyone has a specific job to do, like acting, directing, designing sets and stuff and that everyone needs to do their job well for the show to come out good.
  3. The next time I see a play I will think about all the time and work it took to make it happen.
  4. I never thought about telling a story with just my hands before.
  5. A person could dance too on stage and be part of the story.

Quiz Yourself!

  1. What is the very first step of taking a script and bringing it to the stage?
  2. What is blocking?
  3. When does is the time to work with the light, costume and set designers?
  4. What is the actor’s job?
  5. Describe the director’s job.
  6. What does the set designer do?
  7. What challenges do the people working together face?

Possible answers might be:

  1. The first step is to read through the script.
  2. Blocking is the actions, movement, behavior, entrances and exits of the actors.
  3. After the actors have rehearsed and blocked the script it is time for the Tech rehearsals; which is to work with the light, costume and set designers.
  4. The actor’s job is to read the script and know what the character should look like, be like and then do it.
  5. The director works with the actors and the designers to give them an understanding of the story to be told. Then the director must watch them rehearse and help them to be the best they can be, like a coach.
  6. The set designer has the job of creating the scenery, props and furnishings that will tell the story.
  7. Learning to communicate and work together effectively are challenges that face everyone involved in putting on a play.

Learn More

Dig Deeper!

Want to know more? Before you can start rehearsing you’ve got to have a cast. See this article on how to cast a play.

For the Educator

Take some time to preview the videos before presenting this lesson to the class/student.

Though not necessary, reading the book “Nobody’s Perfect” by Marlee Matlin and George "Doug" Cooney will give you added context and understanding of the video content.

All the World’s a Stage
Planning to put on a stage play? This interactive will give your students insights to the challenges and creative solutions that are part of producing a successful performance.

The site is divided into three parts: in the first, "From Page to Stage," visitors follow one important scene as it moves from words on a page to songs on a stage. Starting with readings by the book’s author and the playwright, students watch as a scene moves through rehearsals and finally appears on stage.

In the second section, "Practice Makes Perfect," we go behind the scenes to get a sense of three important parts of the artistic process: creating characters, communicating, and solving problems.

In the third section, "All About _________," the spotlight is on Megan, the main character of the story. We'll learn who Megan is from the people who know her best—the writers and actors who brought her to life.

Instructional Strategies

Begin with a group discussion with your class. Ask for a show of hands of who has been to a live stage performance? Who has ever performed on stage for an audience? Who has ever worked on costumes or sets for a play? Who ever has wished they could be part of a play?

Ask the class to share about their experiences. What was fun or not fun for them? What they learned or would do the same or different next time.

Ask them to look at the questions and ideas in the “Think About” above and then to watch the “Nobody’s Perfect” interactive video.

After they have watched the “Nobody’s Perfect” video bring them back to a group to talk about what they saw. Ask for volunteers or assign students to try the following exercises:

Think you can be a director, actor or set designer or director? Try these ideas out for size.
  • How can an actor pretend to be a hamster? Standing upright and using only movement and facial expression, work by yourself (at the bathroom mirror) or with your friends to plan and practice a good way to show an audience you’re a hamster. Think about what hamsters do with their eyes, faces, bodies and limbs, how do they move? Imagine it in your mind before you try it.
  • How can we help the audience imagine the different places the musical takes place? Megan’s bedroom, Alexis’ bedroom, the classroom, the shopping mall? Work on your own or with some friends to plan simple ways to set the stage for each location. Draw your ideas on paper and color it in.
  • How can you inspire someone else to tell a story with movements, words and feelings? What can you say to someone that will help them convince an audience that they are your idea of the “character?” Grab some friends and direct them in a simple scene. You can make up your own scene, just think of all the things you’ve already done today. You woke up and got out of bed, you ate breakfast, you came to school, you had a conversation with your friend, all of these could be scenes in a play – you get the idea. For instance, think of someone who just got a letter in the mail. Have them open the letter and react to what they’ve just read as if it is long awaited good news, or bad news, or sad news or maybe even just junk mail. You know your friend, think of things to suggest to them that will help them pretend to be excited or sad or funny or whatever you want.

After you have done these exercises bring everyone back to the group. Ask them how they think it went. Were the performances enjoyable or believable? Did the actors understand what the director wanted? Did the actors feel like they were the character instead of themselves? What about the set drawings? How did they get their ideas? Do they have the details they need to tell the story?

If your class is planning to put on a stage production, have them think about how they can use this new knowledge and experience to make their play successful.



Ann Reilly


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