‘So much heart’: How one small school helped the show go on

‘So much heart’: How one small school helped the show go on

October 28, 2021

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On screen, they are in kitchens, bedrooms and living rooms, dancing the way small children do – bouncing up and down with arms jerking around – separated but together again, at last.

The school play from St Gabriel’s Primary School, a small Catholic school in Reservoir, will be staged (or, more accurately, broadcast) this week: a time capsule of Melbourne’s sixth lockdown.

Teacher Melanie Vearing, with stars of the show, Jasmine Prentice and Mathias Fernandes.Credit:Joe Armao

Lockdowns had battered this school community, like so many others, and visual and performing arts teacher Melanie Vearing could see it playing out in real time.

“The kids lost motivation,” she said. “We saw that online … a lot of kids disengaged.”

But this lockdown, particularly for the senior year levels, was different.

A week before the latest lockdown was announced, Ms Vearing had held auditions for the school’s annual play. Despite the restrictions, she resolved that the show would go on – and it would go online.

Co-ordinating a whole-of-school play involving more than 130 children from prep to grade 6 is a feat in itself. But when all the cast and crew are locked down, it becomes a logistical nightmare.

Rehearsals threw up an immediate challenge: some year levels used Zoom, while others were on Google Meets.

The children relied on a range of devices at home, meaning the appearance and quality of their broadcasts differed. Some kids had unstable internet; children of authorised workers were at school, while others were struggling to keep up at home while their parents worked.

Ms Vearing recruited award-winning cinematographer, and friend, Sky Davies to come on board as a film consultant.

Jasmine and Mathias have lead roles, but the show features about 130 other students as well.Credit:Joe Armao

“There was no cinematography, there was no lighting, there was nothing I could control from that aspect, which is the key aspect of my job,” Davies said.

(It pays to know people: Davies in turn recruited award-winning editor Delaney Murphy to stitch hundreds of clips together.)

“Obviously, it doesn’t have the glitz and the glamour of our normal work, but it has so much heart, which is something that is sometimes missing from a lot of our work,” Davies said. “But we knew it would touch and reach so many people, and it was incredibly important.”

The younger year levels rehearsed once a week, while 30 kids in grade 5-6 with roles practised every day.

The play’s stars, 10-year-old Mathias Fernandes and 11-year-old Jasmine Prentice, said their daily rehearsals helped keep their spirits up during the long lockdown.

“The rehearsals were great,” Mathias said.

“Honestly … it was good because it kept my mind busy. It kept me entertained during lockdown, like: something you practice, something you look up to, something to achieve.”

Jasmine concurred.

“Like Mathias, I didn’t actually realise the beauty of having to go to school until lockdown hit.”

Ms Vearing said the best thing about the experiment had been giving the kids hope and something to look forward to during lockdown.

“Honestly … there’s been so many losses, [so many] missed opportunities for all these kids … and Melbourne’s been the longest locked-down city. Gosh, we’ve done it hard. So this was beautiful.”

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