Guided by local thespians, sixth-grade students at Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Arts Academy recently rehearsed for an upcoming student performance of The Aristocats. The opportunity for the students to be led by professionals through their discovery of theater arts came about through a partnership between Dallas ISD and the AT&T Performing Arts Center.
“The student involvement is an introduction to theater,” said Melanie Dadson, assistant principal at King Arts Academy. “This exposure allows scholars to put their creative touch into a musical that’s been put together by experts. They get to discover their innate ability and the artistic talent that they natural possess. Most rewarding, MLK scholars get a chance to nurture the abilities , with professionals directing them.”
Through the Disney Musicals in Schools program, a limited number of public elementary campuses receive free performance rights and materials to a 30-minute Disney musical written for elementary school performers. Over the course of a semester, professional teaching artists guide schoolteachers through the process of mounting a musical with student performers, according to the project’s website.
The AT&T Performing Arts Center is sponsoring four Dallas ISD campuses that were selected for the Disney Musicals in Schools program. The sponsor supports each school by providing the materials, music and text for the production, as well as guidance from visiting artists.
At Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Arts Academy, visiting artists meet with the students and conservatory teachers for one hour every Tuesday and Thursday during the first period. On Tuesday, local artists guided fifth- and sixth-grade students through training exercises and held student auditions for their upcoming rendition of The Aristocats.
“The students are going over a variety of warm-up routines where every single one has the opportunity to be a part of the musical, and a chance to see if theater is their interest,” Dadson said. “The visiting artists from the AT&T Performing Arts Center are introducing them to these preliminary foundations that they’re going to need to enhance for this production.”
The Aristocats, as performed by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Arts Academy students will be performed at the school in May 2022. It will also join with the other participating schools to be a part of the Student Share production, which will be performed for family and friends at the Winspear Opera House.
“We are so excited to have King Arts Academy students as part of the Disney Musicals in Schools this year,” said Debbie Storey, president and CEO of the AT&T Performing Arts Center. “The talent at this school is just amazing, and we can’t wait to see these students performing on our stage!”
During the 2019-2020 school year, fourth-grade teachers at King Arts Academy applied for, and were selected to the Disney Musicals in Schools program. As the then-fourth-grade students were making headway with the production of The Aristocats, the COVID-19 pandemic shut down in-person learning and their project was put on hold.
Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Arts Academy, formerly a kinder-through-fifth grade campus, began offering the sixth grade during the 2021- 2022 school year and is adding a grade level every year up to eighth grade. The fourth-grade students who were originally cast for The Aristocats production are now the school’s inaugural sixth-grade class. The sixth-graders renewed their production earlier this month and are working closely with their fifth-grade classmates who wish to join their project.
“Everybody has talent or an innate ability to do something,” Dadson said. “By teaching academics and the arts simultaneously, we enhance our students’ learning experience and lead them toward becoming well-rounded, holistic individuals.”