Newark Middle School was slated to present “Elf Jr.” in late April. Then, schools shut down.
All students in the Newark Central School District were assigned computing devices this year. Emily Howard, artistic director, decided to use videoconferencing software to hold rehearsals twice a week with cast members wanting to learn choreography for the show.
“Together, we’ve learned the choreography for two of our production numbers: ‘Happy All the Time’ and ‘Sparkle Jolly Twinkle Jingley,’” Howard said. “A typical rehearsal is attended by 15-20 actors. We do a warmup dance together that I also used with the high schoolers this year and then we start learning one of the pieces.
“My plan is to do some of the scene work in small groups. Almost all of the cast has been to at least one rehearsal. I know they have a lot on their plate with schoolwork and family responsibilities, so I am excited when I see their faces smiling and dancing in our video meetings.”
Howard uploaded dance, music and cast lines files to a shared Teams site for students to access.
“I’m usually not a fan of being in photos or on video, but I know these tools can be helpful,” she said. “I also created videos of me performing the choreography to assist with learning at home. Theater has always been about community for me. It was important to keep the sense of community present during this time. The optional rehearsals are a way for the cast to connect while still social distancing.
“At our first meeting, I asked if they wanted to continue and overwhelmingly the kids said yes. I also received some great positive feedback from parents who are happy that we are working toward a common goal and having something positive to focus on.”
Howard chose “Elf Jr.” as this spring’s musical at Newark High School, “because of the message of cheer and positivity.”
“The Christmas spirit is something that brings family and friends together, reminds us of the good in people and, honestly, is just plain fun,” Howard said. “I think some Christmas spirit may be exactly what all of us need right now.”
“We are so very fortunate to have Emily Howard leading our students though the musical,” NMS Principal Teresa Prinzi said. “She has provided our middle school students with creative and fun ways to stay engaged in learning, and working as a team to produce an amazing musical experience. Emily and our students have embraced learning lines and dance steps through a new medium. They are turning obstacles into opportunities.”
Perkins School general music teacher Lara Larsson is director, choreographer and vocal music director for the show. Stefan Uveges, who teaches eighth grade English language arts, is assistant director.
The cast and crew consists of students in grades 6-8: Alexis Bedell, Tessa Belliveau, Gracie Bennett, Keira Blevins, Felicity Brey, Addison Burgess, Isabella Cary, Brooklyn Cleaves, A.J. Comella, Olivia Demer, Skylie Gianella, Bailey Harris, Alicia Hernandez, Ryan Hinks, Julianna House, Andrew Joslyn, Talen Kanaley, Tony Kanaley, Jadan Kowaleski, Raine Lagus, Taylor Lemon, Julianna Miller, Mikalya Miller, Janai Moore, Emma Newark, Shyanne Pilozzi, Braydan Sherman, Alexandra Staiger Hau, Allora Stefanides, Jade Stoner, Cole Talbot, Luke Taylor, Leeann Titus, Camryn Tolleson, Beatrice VanRiper, Lindsay Wells and Ania Williams.
“It’s nice being able to see my castmates while also practicing social distancing,” Comella said.
“These online rehearsals are a big help so that we can stay on top of the schedule and also so that we can maybe still perform it at some point,” VanRiper said.
“The online rehearsals work great,” Hinks said. “It gives us a chance to stay connected even in bad times. These rehearsals are something that I look forward to; they are very easy to do.”