The bell rings at South Shores Elementary and dozens of drama students get into position in the school auditorium. With only a few days of rehearsal time left before winter break, it may as well be showtime. Musical Director Dr. Paul Goldenstrikes a chord on the piano and students stage left and right sway as they carry long stretches of blue fabric to set the underwater scene for this year’s musical: The Little Mermaid.
In a little over a month, the 200 fourth- and fifth-graders will perform sold-out shows at California State University Dominguez Hills, a tradition of the performing arts magnet elementary school for more than 30 years.
“We make it work every year, everyone’s very passionate about this,” says co-director Carolina Brown, who has led the school’s highly regarded and acclaimed theatrical productions for the past 21 years. “This is the hardest play I’ve blocked or directed. Every play has its challenges and the kids come up with solutions sometimes.”
This year’s musical is the school’s biggest production yet. It’s also the first time the production will be put on in the winter (thanks to the shortened school year).
Whether playing a leading role or a tentacle, acting in a sketch between scenes, singing in the chorus, dancing, or working behind the scenes, all fourth and fifth graders have a part in the production, which has two rotating casts.
“The kids come prepared and a lot has to do with the culture of the school. They’re used to working together toward a common goal,” says co-director Jana Shaver, watching fifth-graders Oliver Stewart and Cristina Roche act out an impassioned father-daughter argument between Ariel and King Triton. “The children are really willing to learn and to take risks because we create a safe environment for them.”
Marie Vidusic spent weeks teaching dozens of dancers original choreography, which they perform with liveliness in synchronization. “I love Broadway and I want it to be as realistic as possible,” she says.
When the whole production comes together, you’d think you were watching a high school performance. Students at South Shores begin their arts training early, and it shows. Their professionalism, talent and confidence are remarkable. spt
South Shores Magnet School for the Visual and Performing Arts’ production of the Little Mermaid will take place January 23 and 24 at the California State University Dominguez Hills University Theatre. For ticket info, call (310) 832-6596.