Repping for Disney | Theater | Style Weekly

Virginia Repertory Theatre has been awarded a $120,000 grant from the Disney Musicals in Schools program. The money will allow the nonprofit theater and education organization to assist four Chesterfield County elementary schools in producing kid-sized versions of popular Disney musicals over the next two years, as well as involving their students in all aspects of theater production.

The partnership between Disney, Virginia Rep and Chesterfield County Public Schools was announced today at the Perkinson Center for the Arts and Education in Chester.

“Virginia Rep has been looking for new approaches to theater education,” says Chris Ruth, special projects coordinator for Virginia Rep. “We’ve always brought educational plays performed by professionals to schools. We’ve had children’s theater programs that involved children in a production’s cast. For the first time with this program, we’ll be sending two professionals to each school and teaching the teachers how to put on their own productions.”

Virginia Rep, created when Theatre IV merged with Barksdale Theatre in 2012, has a long history in theater education. When Theatre IV was established in 1975, it was Virginia’s first professional children’s theater, with educational touring shows a regular component of local public school schedules.

Disney Musicals in Schools (DMS) was established 12 years ago and, before today’s announcement, had developed programs in 19 other states and the United Kingdom according to its website. Virginia Rep will be the first theater organization in the mid-Atlantic region to partner with DMS. The initial grant will enable Virginia Rep to start the program but it has secured additional funding from the Nunnally Foundation and Petersburg’s Cameron Foundation to augment it.

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DMS requires that the participating elementary schools be Title I schools, that is, schools with high percentages of children from low-income families, qualifying them for federal assistance. While only four schools are slated to participate next spring, Ruth says Virginia Rep is planning to add four more schools as soon as possible with a long-term goal of giving similar opportunities to schools across the Richmond metropolitan region.

DMS had contacted Virginia Rep in 2019 confirming the grant but, before schools could be selected to participate, the COVID pandemic shut down after-school activities like DMS. “We’re very excited about this particularly because it’s been on hold for so long,” says Ruth.

After 17 weeks of instruction, each school program will perform a song or section of their production in “share shows” that will be held at the Perkinson Center for the Arts and Education in Chester and at Virginia Rep’s new performance compound at the former Scottish Rite Temple in Northside.

The four schools chosen to participate are:

● Bensley Elementary School

● Crestwood Elementary School

● Harrowgate Elementary School

● Reams Elementary School

“One of the coolest parts of the program to me is that kids get to be involved in every part of the production,” says Ruth. “It’s just as important to be working behind the scenes as to be on stage. It’s a program that helps build a strong community and strong support for the arts.”

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