P.S. 182Q Quest Program’s Musical Production During the COVID-19 Pandemic
By Anne Cahill, Drama Instructor
The Quest ExpandEd Program at P.S. 182Q is a truly unique afterschool program. In a time when what we can educate our students about is often rigidly standardized, Quest gives teachers, group leaders, and students the opportunity to explore subjects about which they are passionate. This allows students to flourish while discovering their talents and pushing their limits. It also allows teachers to see students in another light and spurs an even stronger connection between them.
This is exactly what happened when I started a drama group at Quest in 2012. And it took on new meaning during the COVID-19 pandemic.
As in previous years, the 2019–20 school year began with three rounds of auditions. Interested students came prepared to sing, read lines, and learned a short dance combination. Twenty students were selected and began a rigorous, in-depth look into the foundations of acting, singing, and dancing. They also learned about character development and motivation through literature, which I teach along Group Leader Gianna Moncayo.
This year’s production was to be Disney’s Frozen Jr., and the selected students embarked on five months of preparation and rehearsals.
The time, dedication, and hard work a musical production demands is a lot to ask of anyone, let alone third, fourth, and fifth graders. So you can imagine that when schools closed because of coronavirus, the students were devastated — and, to be frank, so were we. We wanted the students to have the opportunity to showcase their incredible effort and achievement. Watching videos of Broadway casts sing songs from their shows gave Ms. Gianna and me the idea to do something similar: We would create a video of Frozen Jr.’s signature song, “Let It Go.”
We quickly shifted focus from stage acting to camera acting. Program Director Amelia Garcia hopped on board, as she always does, providing us with support and contact with a professional videographer, Erwin Villanueva.
The rest is history, as you can see by the resulting video, above. I hope you will be as moved by the beauty of the students’ voices and spirit as I was. I am so proud of the students and their families, whose support was crucial. The students had a lot of fun making the video, and we enjoyed getting to see them grow in a new way.
Most important, the students finished the project not only having learned performing arts skills, but also the trait of resilience. They had to pivot quickly from all they’d been training for to an entirely new set of skills, under circumstances that were traumatic enough on their own. That they were able to do this so successfully taught them a lot about their own capability to triumph over adversity and create something wonderful.
Fifth-grade participant Mia, who was to play the lead role of Anna, put it best: “To be honest, when we had to start doing rehearsals online due to COVID-19, I was really unmotivated and felt like it wasn’t going to be the same. But after three months of doing it remotely, it grew on me and I started to enjoy it! It gave me something to do during the day and we still had a lot of fun. Although I still get nervous when I know my family is listening to me singing in the other room, it’s still fun! When recording the video for ‘Let it Go,’ I was really nervous because I knew I was going to be heard by my neighbors and family, but seeing the final outcome, I know it was worth it. It’s cool to see how, even through quarantine, Ms. Cahill and Ms. Gianna never stop working hard and making things happen for us!”
We plan to put on a concert version of the show when school can be in session once again — and we know our students will be ready.