New Jersey Performing Arts Center’s Prudential Hall has hosted an impressive array of professional performers, but earlier this month they instead hosted a crop of 3rd to 5th graders who shined bright on the main stage after reenacting Disney classics like The Lion King and Aladdin for beaming parents, proud teachers, and eager spectators. The production, which was the fruit of a collaboration between Disney Musicals in Schools and NJPAC, is the brainchild of the Disney Theatrical Group.
Founded in 2009, Disney Musicals in Schools works with performing art centers around the country to build sustainable theater programs in under-resourced public schools by providing them with the necessary tools to stage a 30-minute rendition of a Disney musical written for elementary school performers.
“The NJPAC Disney Musicals in Schools program is structured with sustainability as a tenant,” said NJPAC Vice President of Arts Education, Alison Scott-Williams. “The musical preparation is in three phases that begins with the teaching artists taking the lead in phase one, co-teaching between the teaching artists and the school team in phase two, followed by the school team leading rehearsals in phase three,” she continued.
To produce a play made for the main stage, students worked with teachers and Disney Musicals in Schools teaching artists during a 17-week residency. Students are provided with the show kit and a professional development session for the school team to make the production a reality.
“Confidence, empathy, tolerance, collaboration, and creativity are some of the very valuable traits nurtured in the rehearsal process,” said Lisa Mitchell, Disney Theatrical Group’s senior manager of education and outreach.
According to a press release, NJPAC is among four arts organizations in the nation and the only regional partner in New Jersey selected this academic year to collaborate with Disney Musicals in Schools.
Out of 17 applications, NJPAC selected five schools, three of which are Newark Public Schools. Students from Branch Brook School, Luis Muñoz Marin School and Mount Vernon School, all in Newark, were amongst the 170 students that graced the stage in colorful, handmade threads to perform Alan Menken’s “It All Starts With A Dream.”
“Thanks to NJPAC and the Disney Musicals in Schools program, our kids had the extraordinary opportunity to participate in this fantastic program, and we are grateful our schools were selected to participate in the program’s inaugural year,” said Newark Public Schools Superintendent Christopher Cerf.
In addition to having little to no arts education, at least 25 percent of the selected schools’ student population is required to live at or below the poverty line
“The Disney Musicals in Schools mission is to build sustainable theater programs in under-resourced public schools. NJPAC was a natural fit for the program given their deep commitment to arts-education and strong relationships with schools in Newark and the surrounding area,” added Mitchell.
According to Scott-Williams, the effect of the program goes beyond the 30-minute stage production.
“For many urban schools with limited arts resources, this program provides the opportunity for the entire school community to support the musical [including] set design, costumes, and the rehearsal process. Through the strength of the school team and the embrace of the school community, each school can build its own traditions for years to come.”
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