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Disney Musicals in Schools helps underserved schools establish theater programs

Posted at 6:55 PM, Feb 28, 2023
and last updated 2023-02-28 19:31:02-05

PAINESVILLE, Ohio — It is almost showtime at Chestnut Elementary School in Painesville. Third through fifth graders at the school are performing Disney’s "The Jungle Book."

The kids have been rehearsing for months, are having so much fun, and are so excited.

Fifth grader Liam Kern, 11, plays the Bengal tiger and main antagonist, Shere Khan.

Katie and Liam talking at Chestnut Elementary while the rest of the students practice on stage

He sings his songs and recites his lines perfectly. Liam says he’s been practicing so hard to overcome stage fright and cannot wait to show the world how good his voice sounds.

Chestnut is one of four elementary schools in Northeast Ohio selected this year for Disney Musicals in Schools. But it’s the first school in Lake County to be part of the program.

Disney Musicals in Schools is overseen by Cleveland’s not-for-profit performing arts center, Playhouse Square, and helps underserved schools establish a theater program.

“The most important thing is that the arts need to be in our schools,” said Treva Offutt, director of education at Playhouse Square. “The arts give another entry to learning and to self-discovery.”

The program is free to the schools. They get a free Disney show license for two years, half-off in the third year, and free professional development from Playhouse Square.

Chestnut’s two teaching professionals are local actors, Noah and Natalie.

The goal is not only to establish a theater program but also to make it sustainable.

“It is a lot of work, but I would do it again in a heartbeat,” said Chestnut Elementary School music teacher Julie Minder with a smile.

Minder has taught music for 34 years and says this is a career high note.

“It has given our children an opportunity to perform that they wouldn’t necessarily get, and the self-confidence — I think you can see that with our kids," she said.

Third grader Kaeniya Kane, 9, has a smile that lights up the room when she’s on the stage and when she talks about being part of the play.

Disney Musicals in Schools is giving Kaeniya, Liam and all the children the chance to dream dreams and unlock magic within themselves they may not have otherwise ever known. It is why exposure to new opportunities can be so powerful in a child’s life and good for the whole community.

The students will first perform The Jungle Book for their friends, family and community. Then, they get to make their voices heard on the big stage, because later in March, the kids get to perform a number at Playhouse Square.

“There’s about to be lights, my mom and dad are going to be there, there will be nice decorations, and tons of people will see me on stage, and everybody will hear my voice,” beamed Kaeniya. “It’s going to be fun.”

Other schools taking part in Disney Musicals in Schools this year are Old Brooklyn Community Elementary School, Newton D. Baker and Sunbeam School.

Photographer Mike Harris showing students at Chestnut Elementary School his news camera.

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