CHESTER, Va. — Disney magic is coming to four Chesterfield schools.
Bensley, Crestwood, Harrowgate and Reams elementary schools were selected to take part in “Disney Musicals in Schools,” a national program that infuses theater arts in public elementary schools. It is the first time the program is being hosted in Virginia.
Students in grades three through five will be involved in the production of the musicals at no cost.
“Our kids are so creative; they just love performing, and they haven’t had the chance to perform like they deserve,” said Danielle Confletti, music teacher at Reams Elementary. “It’s just going to be so great for them.”
Disney awarded the Virginia Repertory Theatre a $120,000 grant to bring the program to Chesterfield. The Cameron Foundation and the Nunnally Foundation also contributed funding.
Teachers and other team members will receive $1,600 stipends for their work.
Chesterfield school representatives and county officials were on hand for the recent announcement at the Perkinson Center for the Arts and Education in Chester.
“We are just bursting to get back to school and just celebrate with (the students) and be ready to start this amazing program,” said Tory Travis, music teacher at Bensley Elementary.
Disney Musicals in Schools was created in 2010 as a way to provide underserved public elementary schools access to the arts.
“This opportunity I think will give our students, as well as our community, the chance to see that it doesn’t matter where you come from — your dreams can be achieved if you continue to work hard and to dream them,” said Patrice Wilson, principal at Bensley Elementary.
Disney invited Virginia Rep to be the 46th partner of the Disney Theatrical Group in 2019. It received the grant in 2020, but the big announcement and beginning of the program were delayed due to COVID-19.
Phil Whiteway, managing director at Virginia Rep, said it was a dance between the school systems, the artists and the teaching artists to find a comfort level and get the program rolling again.
“Everyone sort of has to breathe and just figure out when the time is right,” Whiteway said. “And this year seems to be the time when things are opening back up.”
Joe Casey, Chesterfield County’s administrator, was glad that Disney continued to show interest in the area even with the pandemic delays.
“This is getting a well-respected institution coming in and getting kids excited,” Casey said. “It’s going to be an amazing thing where somebody can say forevermore they were part of a Disney musical program.”
The schools will begin a 17-week musical theater residency in January under the instruction of Disney-trained Virginia Rep teaching artists. The plan for the 2023-24 school year is to continue with the original four schools and add four new schools to the program.
The festivities included a rendition of “When You Wish Upon a Star” by Bud Weber, a Virginia Rep alumnus and Broadway actor.
“I’m just so honored to announce that Disney, Virginia Rep and Chesterfield County Public Schools are coming together for Disney Musicals in Schools to help launch the dream of hundreds of Chesterfield County students just like myself,” Weber said before performing.
Each school will choose a show to perform from a list that includes “101 Dalmatians,” “Aladdin,” “The Aristocats,” “Frozen,” “The Jungle Book,” “The Lion King” and “Winnie the Pooh.”
In addition to their respective school performances, the musicals will also be performed at Student Share Celebrations, one at the Perkinson Center and another at the Virginia Rep’s new Center for Arts and Education at the former Scottish Rite Temple.
“I think this is a great opportunity for our community to grow stronger together,” said Jodi Seitz, principal at Reams Elementary. “It matches our motto of ‘work hard, be kind, inspire dreams,’ so we’re excited.”