Scott Wichmann didn’t know about the concept of filling someone’s bucket with kindness until he began writing Have You Filled A Bucket Today? The Musical for Virginia Rep On Tour. The musical is adapted from two works by Richmond-based playwright and author Ann Marie Halstead, Have You Filled A Bucket Today? The Play and Bucket Filling Fairy.
The bucket-filling concept was popularized by Carol McCloud’s 2006 book Have You Filled a Bucket Today? A Guide to Daily Happiness for Kids. It teaches children to fill other people’s buckets with kind gestures and positive thoughts and that, in turn, will help fill their buckets as well. Halstead read the book to her young sons when the oldest was in pre-school. “I loved the book,” she says. “I thought it would make a good play. I called Carol, and said I wanted to write the play and she said yes, go ahead.”
Virginia Rep’s new musical about preventing bullying by filling buckets is currently playing schools across the state. It will have a performance at the Children’s Theatre at Willow Lawn on March 19.
“When your bucket is full, you feel good about yourself. You feel confident, hopeful, and optimistic,” Wichmann says. “When it’s empty, you feel depressed and lonely. We are trying to teach kids to be proactive in filling buckets.”
The basic premise for the musical comes from Bucket Filling Fairy. A young boy named Trey begins to act out and display bullying behaviors at summer camp. “This was bullying behavior coming out of an average, likeable kid,” Wichmann says, adding that his counselor shows him how to fill the buckets of others. “That’s where the bucket-filling fairy comes in.”
Bullying is a problem for all age groups. According to StopBullying.gov, which compiles information on bullying from various government agencies, 28 percent of U.S. students in grades six through twelve experienced bullying. Approximately 30 percent of young people admit to bullying others.
Trey’s experience with bucket-filling is transformative and teaches him how to modify his behavior and help others. “We boil it down to the small choices we make each day – like a kind word of encouragement or helping someone bear a load,” Wichmann says. “If someone acknowledges you in any way, it can be a really important thing.”
Trey in the musical is named after Halstead’s 10-year-old son. Both he and his 7-year-old brother, Trevor, were characters in Halstead’s works. (Her play had its international premiere in Australia in 2014 and her book came out in 2015.) “Trey has not done the things depicted in the story,” Halstead assures. “Both of my kids have interesting perspectives on bucket filling.”
Wichmann had to cut Trevor out of the musical along with several other characters and that was a challenge for him. “Because of our resources at Virginia Rep, the touring program caps the cast at around fix or six,” he says. “I had to condense a nine-character play down to a cast of five.”
Wichmann is also directing and writing much of the show’s music. “When I was writing the show I tried to punch it up in ways that would be relatable to kids today,” he says.
Halstead felt a musical was the next step for her work and likes Wichmann’s creative touches. “Scott has done such a nice job of honoring my play and my book,” she says. “He added clever, fun elements of his own.”
Jason Marks, who music directs most of the shows for Virginia Rep’s touring arm, partnered with Wichmann on the music for the show. “Scott would sing the melody into an autofile and I would shape it,” says Marks who wrote the opening number of the show and is the orchestrator of the show. “Scott and I work very well together.”
The show is currently on tour, playing to schools around the state. “We were blessed with the perfect cast in the developmental stages of this new project,” Wichmann says. “We are still polishing the songs and editing. Having a crunched creative process really spurs you.”
The musical will have a long shelf life because of its relevancy. “Bullying is not going away,” Halstead says. “The American Medical Association calls it a public health concern. We have to do something about it. Theater artists have the ability and responsibility to address these type of social issues.”
The show’s message isn’t just for kids. Wichmann finds it really interesting to work on a project like this in a day and age where adults are so polarized.
“We forget to acknowledge and build on one another,” he says. “There is something to be said for families coming to learn this story. We can all benefit from the idea of standing up for one another and not dipping in the bucket (bullying). We need to realize words and actions have consequence, both negatively and positively.”
Halstead sees this show and her works as her putting “something good into the world,” she says. “This show is needed. It’s not just about bullying. It’s also about how we all should treat each other.”
Carol McCloud wrote the original book about the concept of bucket filling. Ann Marie Halstead, who adapted the concept into a story in her play, Have You Filled a Bucket Today: The Play, and later adapted her own play into a book, Bucket Filling Fairy, will be signing her works at the event.