Students create play with ‘magical’ COVID cure
by Steven Felschundneff | email@example.com
Imagine if you will a group of magical creatures that mistakenly travels back to the 1950s where they learn that humans are fighting a scary virus with a brand new vaccine, but not everyone plans to get inoculated. Realizing the parallels to the current pandemic, they hatch a plan to return to 2021 with a message that if polio could be defeated 70 years ago, we can wipe out COVID today.
This fantastical scenario formed the plot and theme of a musical production by the students and teachers at Village Dance Arts, culminating in two performances last weekend. All of the writing and many of the concepts came directly from the students ages six to twelve who had signed up for a two-week musical theater summer intensive camp.
“Some were non-dancers, very organic dancers and some had training,” Denise Donovan, artistic director of the dance school said. “They had nine days to learn all the pieces, all the songs, the choreography and all the blocking Normally, that is what professionals do but they did it as youngsters.”
The play was directed by Claremont native and CHS alumni Emily Dauwalder who has been performing in musical theater productions since graduating more than ten years ago. She is a graduate of Pitzer College’s New Resource Program, double-majoring in dance and sociology, and now teaches musical theater and tap dance at Village Dance Arts.
“I actually grew up here at this dance studio—this is where I started and learned everything with Miss Denise so it’s awesome and full circle to come back and be a teacher,” Ms. Dauwalder said.
The students had a 10-week writing sequence via Zoom on April 10 where much of the creative work got done. A handful of students worked on the script, Ms. Dauwalder laid down the music and an assistant choreographed the dances.
The students started with brainstorming sessions to determine “what do we want the audience to walk away with and what is important to us right now during the pandemic?”
“The kids were very pro-science which was awesome. They really wanted to promote the vaccine and they also loved magical creatures,” Ms. Dauwalder said. “So what I did is take all of their ideas and ask ‘how do you feel about this?’ We would continue to brainstorm, and come back with more combinations of their ideas until they were all happy with it and then we had a story.”
The project was dance intensive so they started last Monday with auditions, and aside from weekends off they were there rehearsing every day and then performed the show last weekend. The students had a very short amount of time to learn everything, and Ms. Dauwalder said she was very impressed with them.
Scene one opens at Camp Magica where the cast of magical creatures is looking forward to the annual talent show but soon learn the show will be canceled due to COVID. They ask the “Great Creature” played by Anna Sawhill, to bless a plan they concoct to forestall the spread of the coronavirus so the show can go on.
The cast decides to go to New York City but inadvertently end up in the Big Apple during the 1950s. While there the creatures are adopted by a family of New Yorkers who tell the tale of how polio has the nation in a panic and their own daughter is a victim. The time travelers reveal that polio has been largely wiped out due to herd immunity produced by the vaccine. A plan is hatched for everyone to return to Camp Magica and convince COVID vaccine holdouts that the best way to put the pandemic behind them is to get the shot.
The performers sing a reimagined version of “Safety Dance” by Men Without Hats, with lyrics including:
You can vax if you want to
You can leave those friends behind
‘Cause your friends aren’t vaxxed
And if they aren’t vaxxed
Then they better get in line
The story from the past and the song convinces everyone to get the vaccine so the talent show can be saved.
In addition to Anna the cast includes: Lucia Beighley as Bailey and the narrator; Eve Englebert as Paprika; Claire Ferree as Bobby and the magical news anchor; Annika Heitkemper as Pepper; Viviana Jimenez as Parsley; Ella Rockne as Thyme; Maya Rodriguez as Rosemary; Willa Sutherland as Ben; Siena Tardibuono as Sage; Clare Taylor as Billy and the nurse.
Ensemble and stage crew include some older students who have been studying dance for years: Reese Buckway, Bill Marshall, Paige Ouellette, Julia Pielke Santo and Julian Pielke Santos.
“We wanted to have an element of time travel to be in the show and wanted to parallel something of COVID with the past,” Ms. Dauwalder said. “The [students] said ‘we really want to time travel to the 50s’ And I said ‘did you know that polio was happening in the 50s?’”
“We were just very fortunate that we were able to perform live with a very limited audience,” Ms. Donovan said. She has worked at the studio since 1997 and became the artistic director ten years ago, serving as the “right hand woman” to founder Toni Carrion who opened the business in 1969 but died in 2016.
“We are open seven days a week and we are just very blessed that we are able to keep our business in COVID,” Ms. Donovan.