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The City Journals

South Jordan Elementary students learn theater form friendships through school musical

May 08, 2018 01:06PM ● By Julie Slama

South Jordan Elementary recently put on “The Wizard of Oz,” which featured 110 students in the production. (Julie Slama/City Journals)

By Julie Slama | [email protected]

About 110 South Jordan Elementary students brought to life the story of Dorothy Gale and her dog, Toto, as they recently presented the classic, “The Wizard of Oz.”

“It was just incredible,” said South Jordan Elementary fifth-grade teacher Diane Witt-Roper, who co-directed the production with third-grade teacher Scott Knight. “To see what they have learned and the friendships they have made, it is so worthwhile.”

With interest soaring high after students performed “Beauty and the Beast” last year as well as saw the live-action movie that was released at the same time, Witt-Roper and Knight decided upon “The Wizard of Oz,” which Witt-Roper had directed at a Bluffdale school six years ago.

“We added two more musical numbers, ‘I put a spell on you’ and ‘Jitterbug,’ which were not in the movie, so we could get a lot of students involved,” she said, adding that she hoped to take students on a field trip to see it performed at Hale Center Theatre next season.

To choreograph “Jitterbug,” second-grade teacher Alan LeFluer, who had choreographed shows at Salt Lake Community College's Grand Theatre, volunteered to help.

For students, the March musical began in November when they individually auditioned by running through lines and singing 30 seconds of a song. They also could request three parts they would like to portray.

“We include everyone, but this is a positive way for them to learn about auditioning and learning the process,” she said. “We like to put kids where they want to be, but they also learn it’s OK if they don’t get the part they wanted. Instead, they can be happy for someone else and keep going.” 

Once the cast was set, including double-casting the main parts, the third- through sixth-graders practiced the songs to a CD and memorized about 75 percent of their lines in December, before going into rehearsal in January. In March, they presented eight performances to a packed cafeteria that was transformed into scenes from Kansas and Oz.

Witt-Roper said through the musical, students are learning about oral speaking, coordination, teamwork, fluency in reading and storytelling, following direction and gaining confidence.

“It’s so worth it to see some of the kids gain confidence while making the connection to the school and to each other,” she said. “It takes a lot of teamwork and synergizing. We set a high standard and these students can meet that challenge. When we can keep kindergartners entertained for two hours, then we know we have something special.”

Witt-Roper said it also took students staying on task. When they weren’t rehearsing, they were working on their homework or practicing math and reading skills on Chromebooks under the direction of parents, who also helped with props, sets, costumes and in the green room. They also had to work around students missing during the flu season. 

The students had a chance at the cast party, where they were presented a certificate and photos, to watch their performance. 

“It was fun to watch the kids react to it and to have fun celebrating being part of the arts in school,” she said. 

Students could make a $2 donation for a DVD, and at the performances, families purchased about $800 of concessions that will be earmarked for next year’s performance of “Aladdin,” which will tie into the release of the live-action movie starring Will Smith.

This was the sixth annual musical South Jordan Elementary has presented; the tradition began under Knight when students presented “Pirates of the Caribbean.” 

“Through all of this, students formed friendships by spending time together, counting on each other and doing the same activities,” Witt-Roper said. “It’s been fun to see them make new friends and see them become proud of their accomplishments. I had a third-grader come up to me after the first-night (performance) and say ‘this is the best three months ever.’”