Packed bleachers full of doting parents and socializing teenagers were the audience for the September 15 performance for the Rolla High School marching band. With the Rolla Bulldogs leading Waynesville by three touchdowns, it was time to break for halftime and let the musical students lighten the mood of the crowd with their new show ‘The Fourth Wall’.

Packed bleachers full of doting parents and socializing teenagers were the audience for the September 15 performance for the Rolla High School marching band. With the Rolla Bulldogs leading Waynesville by three touchdowns, it was time to break for halftime and let the musical students lighten the mood of the crowd with their new show ‘The Fourth Wall’.

In theatre, novels and other art forms, there is an invisible line that separates the audience and the thing that they are viewing. Traditionally the audience is left out of the piece—they are a passive observer. However, this invisible line can be removed, such as when a movie actor looks into the camera and addresses the audience directly. This is called ‘breaking the fourth wall.’ Examples of this can be seen in movies such as the recent Deadpool (2016), Fight Club (1999) and most often, in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off (1986). The use of this technique is not solely for film, and can now be seen in the band’s new show.

The RHS marching band’s new show, ‘The Fourth Wall’, is a direct callout to the theatric ‘line’ drawn between its performance and the audience. Traditionally, band members play their parts with some choreography flair thrown in, and then the football game begins again. This show, however, is not there to fill time; it’s performed in the hopes of bringing interest back to marching band performers.

‘The Fourth Wall’ uses a narrator throughout the entirety of the show to help direct audience members to areas of interest at certain times throughout the piece. This narrator also brings in a heavy layer of humor for the audience without distracting from the main band. It’s a refreshing take on a very old system. I believe the narrator summed it up nicely by saying “Marching band is boring they say? Well… we’re going to change that.”

The music played was a rising piece, almost sparse, starting fairly mellow and only using certain sections of the band. Imagine a marriage of pieces played during Charlie Chaplin’s performances like ‘Hungarian Dance’ by Johannes Brahms mixed with Disney’s ‘Fantasia 2000’, which worked very well. It had the classical feel, mixed with the light-hearted imagery of the band. As soon as the second half of the show began, a shift occurred—a massive movement by the entire band and the flag performers covered the field and the music crescendoed into a big band fury for the finale.

Like a wizard or tent barker pulling the strings, the narrator gave direction throughout the program to not only induce laughs, but to also guide the audience—kind of like a helpful neighbor pointing to the interesting thing you might have missed. Marching band shows have lots of points of focus, so this direction is helpful to catch everything in the performance.
Positioned in the stands, it seemed that there wasn’t a single feathered hat out of place during their show. Even without the enigmatic narrator adding another layer to the display, the students showed supreme talent and control in their abilities to play, organize, and showcase themselves while the audience watched.

Brass instruments definitely seemed to be the golden child in the show, and as an observer of this non-traditional performance, it would feel appropriate to add in a spotlight of non-traditional band instruments as well. Tucked underneath the drum major was a small section of students playing instruments you don’t normally see on the field; guitar, keyboard, gong and xylophone among them. With narrator call-outs to the low-brass section and drum line, it would feel appropriate to use these students more, possibly in reference to audience interaction with their proximity to the crowd.

‘Breaking the fourth wall’ is not just a tickle towards audience amusement; it’s a blatant call out, a direct invitation to engage. The high school show was highly entertaining, and could easily out-perform many bands at or above its level. Audience participation and interaction with the narrator from band members could add a new layer to the performance, but it was thrilling to see what they could do. The individual call-outs to sections of the band; with so many students in action, was helpful.
It’s no surprise this marching band has been the winner of multiple contests in the state, and even performed in Hawaii as part of their list of accomplishments. Not everyone can follow instructions and orders the way these young adults do, and when talking with some of the performers, it makes sense that many wish to continue this path in their higher education.

Overall, the general use of the fourth wall as a show title and component in the show is quite clever. If the theme, script and music are designed to surprise and delight, the Rolla Bulldog Marching Band scored a touchdown at halftime.