Virtual Theatre Creates Connections Outside the Classroom for One JumpStart Theatre Program

May 29, 2020

Los Coches Creek Middle school, a San Diego region JumpStart Theatre school supported by LaJolla Playhouse, were days away from their first JumpStart Theatre production Annie JR. when schools shut down across the nation due to the COVID-19 crisis. The middle schoolers built the sets, completed the costumes, while the six-student crew had scene changes down to a science. A cityscape mural, created by more than 100 students, was ready to disguise the gym walls and transport the audience to New York City. The robotics class even constructed a robot version of “Sandy the Dog.”

A robot of Sandy the dog was constructed by the Los Coches Creek Middle School robotics class.
A robot of Sandy the dog was constructed by the Los Coches Creek Middle School robotics class.

As the school district worked to make online learning options available, educator and Los Coches theatre director, Stephanie Ibrahim began to muse over virtual performance possibilities to keep her students’ hard work from fading away.

The former Google classroom coach began to plan out a schedule for online rehearsals in addition to the tools needed. Ibrahim reached out to Music Theatre International (MTI) to secure online production rights and reached out to fellow JumpStart Theatre teachers, Valerie Marcus, and Leo DaSilva to put a plan into action.

Los Coches Creek Middle School's AnnieJr. program.
Los Coches' AnnieJr. program.

After Los Coches’ two-week spring break, the teachers began online rehearsals every Monday and started recording Annie JR. on Tuesdays. “Rehearsing one day and performing the next was an important part of the process,” Ibrahim commented. “It gave students time to think about what they might want to wear, look for props they might have at home, and understand how it would look and sound.”

The staff used WeVideo as their online video editor, and Flipgrid to individually record acapella songs. Ibrahim then layered the videos together, estimating that it took roughly 10 hours of editing time per scene.

As the scenes came together, Ibrahim scheduled weekly “viewing parties” on a password-protected Zoom meeting that allowed staff, students, friends, and family from all over the country that wouldn’t have been able to make it to the real performance to see the production. The production received accolades from other Los Coches’ teachers as well as the district’s superintendent.

The AnnieJr. set design at Los Coches Creek Middle School.
The AnnieJr. set design at Los Coches Creek Middle School.

Ibrahim was motivated to take on this huge technological endeavor because she noticed incredible changes in her students since they started rehearsing, specifically the way general education students interacted with special needs students. Ten of the 30 students in their play are considered special needs: hearing impaired, visually impaired, or autistic.

A diverse group of students is what Ibrahim loves most about their JumpStart Theatre program, “Special needs students don’t often have a chance to shine, and theatre gives them that moment. As they worked together, general education students demonstrated increased empathy, patience, adaptability, and willingness to compromise. All the students involved in theatre have improved in a variety of areas, including overall academics, engagement, and confidence. They have even applied their newfound theatre skills to other classes.”

Los Coches has also incorporated “World of Work,” a program that allows students to explore a career in performing arts through research while building awareness of opportunities in the field. After their research, the class decided on a couple of careers that they wanted to learn more about and were recently matched up with professionals through Nepris. Through this platform, students had the chance to speak with a makeup artist who demonstrated various techniques to provide an inside look into her career.

Watch Los Coches’ pre-Spring break practice of the musical production of Annie JR.

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