ST. JOE – The future stars of the DeKalb Eastern scene will be able to show what they are made of in a children’s edition of Mary Poppins.
This show will take place at 6 p.m. on Thursday, March 3 at the Millie Hansen Auditorium in Eastside.
He is part of the district’s elementary drama club, led by fourth-grade teacher Jessica Snyder.
Snyder, a 2013 Eastside graduate, started the club with recently retired teachers Sue Nelson and Nedra Stephens.
The elementary club started in 2018 with 10 students.
This year, 37 students from Butler and Riverdale Elementary Schools are involved, with students in grades 4 through 6, as well as a few third-graders sprinkled into the mix.
“My goal for the program is to get them interested in performance and to teach them some of the basics that they’ll need to know when they’re in high school,” Snyder said.
Students learn the basic direction, such as stage left, stage right, stage up, and stage down. “We always want the kids to sing a bit to teach them some of those basics,” she explained. “We do very simple movements during our songs.”
Students also learn how to enter and exit the stage and how differences in voice inflection help tell the story.
While the high school curriculum incorporates various sets and costumes, at the elementary level the focus is entirely on performance.
“It’s really fun to see them excited and explaining,” Snyder said. “It’s fun to take what I’ve learned from the great mentors I’ve had and be able to share it with other people.”
Jennifer Wenzel, an elementary music teacher, helps Snyder with the program.
Eastside has presented outstanding musical performances over the years, but changes were needed in order to maintain and rebuild this tradition, giving rise to the elementary program.
“He was born out of necessity,” Snyder said. “We saw fine art dwindle in high school, so we tried to figure out how we could get those kids interested at a younger age.”
The first year had 10 students.
“It grew from there,” she said. “The kids really loved it. They told their friends and the next year we had about 20 children.
On the day of the audition, if the show is a musical, all students will learn a song to sing together. Later, the students are asked if they want to try solos.
“There will be one or two who are really brave and they will come up and do it on their own,” Snyder said. “Slowly you see these kids thinking, ‘If they did it, I can go do it.’ It’s really cool to see their confidence grow as the day goes on.
“I’ve had several parents who really enjoy the club because their kids aren’t necessarily athletically inclined, so it gives them that creative outlet,” she explained.
“I’ve had really shy kids who weren’t expected and who say to themselves, ‘I’m going to try something new’ and they end up loving it and they really shine on stage.
“It’s really cool to see their growth.”
As an alumnus, Snyder can relate.
“I was one of those very shy, quiet kids when I was in elementary school,” she said. “My teachers did little reading theater in class and I found it really fun.
“When I got to middle school, I started doing choir, so I took part in plays for that. In high school, I enrolled in both musical theater and acting class.
“I loved playing. It was an outlet for me to come alive, have fun and not be so nervous.
After Eastside, she attended Huntington University, where she majored in theater and participated in several productions in addition to working in her major for elementary and special education.
A third-grade teacher at St. Joe’s Riverdale Elementary School, this year is Snyder’s first as a director of high school plays and musical productions.
In December, Eastside presented “Miracle on 34th Street”. Although casting has yet to take place, the spring musical will be “The Music Man.” High school choir teacher Andrew McElhany will take part in this production.
“We try to focus on a strong fine arts community,” Snyder said. A senior showcase is planned for May where senior art, orchestra and choir students will have the opportunity to showcase their talents.
After the end of the regular school year, each year DeKalb Eastern offers a Horizons Academy for gifted and talented students, combining the sciences and the arts.
Last year, students performed a junior version of “The Little Mermaid” while learning about marine biology.
This year’s program, “Science of Chocolate”, will include a youth production on Willie Wonka.
Snyder said the growth of the elementary club has been incredible. Some of these freshmen are now in high school and involved in productions under his direction at Eastside.
“It’s good to see the effect it’s starting to have,” she said. One day, these students will have leading and starring roles on the big stage.
More information on the elementary program can be found at DeKalb Eastern Performing Arts.