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Rock Ridge Performing Arts Broadway Bound Camp Finds Safe Way for the Show to Go On
Ashburn may have been experiencing a heat wave this July, but it was “Frozen” inside Rock Ridge High School July 13-24 as the Rock Ridge Performing Arts (RRPA) Broadway Bound Summer Camp met and staged three performances of the Disney musical.
The RRPA Broadway Bound Summer Camp is sponsored each year by the school’s Drama Boosters. The camp is open to students in grades K-9 and lasts for two weeks. Students in grades 10-12 serve as interns to help with the production. At the conclusion of the camp, students perform a musical for an audience of family and friends.
With school buildings closed in March and staying closed for the remainder of the school year, it didn’t look promising that Broadway Bound would be able to happen this year.
“Back in April, I read a quote...that said if you don’t know the direction in which you are headed, just sit and wait. Rather than choosing a direction and making a decision about Broadway Bound in April, I was really listening to the science and watching what the Governor was saying, as well as what LCPS was saying,” RRPA Artistic Director Anthony Cimino-Johnson said.
When June rolled around, the Governor had granted permission for summer camps to meet. Cimino-Johnson thanked Risk Management Manager Kelly Briner and Assistant Superintendent for Support Services Kevin Lewis for greenlighting the operation of the camp.
When the good news came, Cimino-Johnson was prepared. “I had been researching since April...how to do this safely and how to get children together again. Following different theatre threads, following different articles about how to open a business, how to open a school, and how to open the theatre community ultimately, I put together guidelines in May so that they were ready in June for the people who needed those guidelines,” Cimino-Johnson said.
The guidelines also were presented to the 220 families who had students signed up to attend the camp. Families were given the option of attending this year or deferring their attendance to summer 2021, which about 60 percent of them did.
Cimino-Johnson called himself the “Safety Tsar” and indicated that safety was the first priority as he outlined the extraordinary efforts of the staff to keep students safe. Students were greeted in their cars each morning by two staff members wearing face shields. The students had their temperatures taken and responded to a symptom survey before exiting the car. The students then sanitized their hands upon arrival and reported to their assigned rehearsal room.
The camp operated in the school’s largest spaces--the cafeteria, the auxiliary gym, the media center and the auditorium. Six foot by six foot grids were taped off on the floor to designate the areas in which students could rehearse. Students performing choreography within these spaces moved in the same direction at the same time, discouraging the students from moving together. The use of the grid was on top of a mask mandate. Students were required to wear masks at all times while in the building but were given frequent mask breaks outside. Cimino-Johnson said that even the youngest campers kept their masks on and that they were worn while singing and dancing with no negative impact. Students ate lunch outside under the school’s entrance awning. There were no more than 30 students in any cast or crew, and the casts and crew worked in separate spaces.
Cimino-Johnson noted that the limitation of the six by six grids caused directors to have to modify their directing styles. “This was really cool to watch because it was a totally different style, but still all the magic of RRPA,” Cimino-Johnson said.
The extreme stress of managing the safety components paid off when Cimino-Johnson received parent feedback about the program. The parent emails said:
“I’m seeing my child come to life again.”
“I haven’t seen them this happy in the last four months.”
“Thank you for providing this safe space for our children.”
Cimino-Johnson reflected on the experience. “It didn’t matter that the kids were in masks or that the show was staged differently or that there weren’t costumes. What mattered was that kids were interacting with their peers, and they were having fun doing it.”
In previous years, RRPA would typically sell 600-700 tickets for each of the three performances of the production. That couldn’t happen while enforcing social distance protocols, so the company took two actions to share the Disney story of Elsa, Anna and Olaf with the public. New protocols were put in place for the in-person performances. Students were limited to four tickets. The entire auditorium was taped out to reduce the seating to 150 people in total. Guests could arrive 40 minutes before show time and underwent a COVID screening and temperature check before finding their seats. The guests used hand sanitizer and were directed into and out of the auditorium in one direction. Staff members employed a fogger disinfectant between performances and wiped down all of the seats with Virex.
Because of the limited seating, RRPA also is offering a scheduled content streaming of a live performance. Information about purchasing a streaming pass for showings in August can be found at https://www.showtix4u.com/events/rrpa.
Despite the heavy lift to ensure the safety of students and audience members, Cimino-Johnson said this summer camp was one of the most impactful programs to date. “It was worth it when you see the kids on the stage again and coming to life. I had parents in tears after the performances come up to me and thank me. It was so worth it because these kids deserve it, and they are pretty incredible.”
Information about registering for next summer’s RRPA Broadway Bound Camp, which will culminate with a production of Disney’s Moana Jr., can be found at https://www.rockridgeperformingarts.org/.
Published July 31, 2020