By TAYLOR HARTZ
Fourth and fifth grade students at Kelley Elementary School will now have their chance to step into the spotlight with the school’s newly established drama club.
The club, founded by Southington High School students Emily Pestillo and Michael Ricciardone performed their first play, Once On This Island Jr., at Kennedy Middle School this past weekend.
Pestillo and Ricciardone took the initiative to share their love of theater with kids ages 9-10 this November, when they pitched the idea of a drama club to Kelley Elementary Parent Teacher Organization. The co-directors have been involved in several shows at Southington High School and have worked with community theater companies such as Seven Angels Theater, GetUp Stage Company and the Thomaston Opera House. Since their idea was given the go ahead six months ago, both have volunteered their time after school to prepare more than 20 students for their first performance.
Ricciardone said he was thrilled to bring his passion for theater to his alma mater and give students a new activity that teaches them to be outgoing and responsible, while Pestillo was glad to combine her six-years of experience in theater with her plans to study elementary education.
Kennedy hosted two performances of “Once on this Island Jr.,” a Caribbean themed one-act musical that follows the story of a peasant girl who falls in love with a higher class character called a “grand homme.” The directors chose this show for the many solos and ensemble numbers that featured all the students.
The co-directors agreed that the ensemble heavy cast contributed to the biggest reward of their project—watching the cast grow from their first rehearsal and seeing students from different grades and classes join together to learn and work as a team.
“They’re very uplifting” said Pestillo of their teamwork and energy. A senior at SHS, Pestillo is attending the University of Connecticut in the fall to pursue a degree in early education. Pestillo said she was able to learn a great deal about her future career by teaching students about theater.
Ricciardone, a sophomore, said he tried to balance rehearsals by directing scenes and dances and playing theater games that encouraged students to learn the show “as well as the objective of theater, of really opening up on stage and performing.”
Adrianna Palmeri, a fourth-grade student who played the lead female role of Ti Moune, said that learning this objective was her favorite part, and that being in drama club “shows kids how to be able to perform on stage and be able to be open and learn how to project and sing and act for a crowd.”
Reilly Jarvis, a fifth-grader who played Papa Ge, said he thinks drama club is important because it gives students to opportunity “to show the audience what they can do while being someone else,” and said he made a lot of friends and had a lot of fun while rehearsing for the show.
Several parents who volunteered to help with hair and make-up agreed that the new drama club has been a great confidence booster for their kids.
“It is important to have an outlet for the non-sports kids” Christine Babicz, mother of fourth-grader Jessica Babicz, who played Asaka, mother of the earth.
Elke Blanchard, whose two fourth-grade daughters were in the cast, agreed that this new activity was a great learning experience to have at an early age.
Blanchard said she was most impressed by all the qualities the children learned from being involved with theater. “Think about all the skills they learned off stage,” said Blanchard, “teamwork and friendship, commitment and problem solving and public speaking.”
Fourth-grade cast members Palmeri and Cook both agreed that the things they learned during “Once on this Island Jr.” will make them eager to try out for next year’s play, while fifth-grader Jarvis said he will definitely pursue theater in middle school next year.
“Emily and Michael really inspired us,” said Cook.
Both Pestillo and Ricciardone think that this first production will give younger students something to look forward to as they enter their last two years at Kelley Elementary, and hope that the drama club continues as a learning experience for future students.