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After pandemic shuts down annual school play, these 3rd-graders says ‘show must go on’

Posted at 1:29 PM, Jun 10, 2020
and last updated 2020-06-10 16:29:13-04

As a third-grade elementary school teacher, Reed Clapp never imagined he would be finishing the school year sitting inside the living room of his home. But the COVID-19 outbreak had other plans for this teacher and so many others across the country.

Undeterred by a nationwide pandemic, Clapp was determined to finish out this school year the same as any other: with a play that he and fellow teacher, Karen Snyder, have produced for the last five years.

“This is one of the most challenging things I’ve ever taken on,” he said, sitting inside the living room of his home in Nashville, Tennessee.

The name of the show Clapp and his class would perform in years past was called, “Grammarella,” a satirical production of Cinderella, where every student plays a part of speech. The character Interrogative, for example, can only speak in questions.

On the last day of every school year, Clapp’s students would perform the play in front of their classmates at Madison Creek Elementary School in Hendersonville, Tennessee. It’s become such a hit over the years that there’s typically not an empty seat in the school’s library on opening afternoon, which is also closing night. There’s only one showing.

But how could Clapp, harness that same kind of magic without his kids physically at school?

After a few weeks of thinking, he decided the answer to that question was right in front of him: he’d move the play to Zoom, a virtual video platform.

“Instead of saying, ‘we won’t have a play this year,’ we decided to say, ‘how can we do something that is original and something these kids are proud of?” he said.

As summer vacation loomed, Clapp and his third-graders began to double down on their work. This energetic 33-year-old teacher with a thick southern drawl knew the script for “Grammarella” would have to be thrown out. So, he started from scratch and came up with an original screenplay, “Zoomarella.”

Students auditioned for lead roles on Zoom, and they even practiced social distancing by picking up costumes that Mr. Clapp and Ms. Snyder had left outside on their front porches.

Over the course of a few weeks, the play started coming together. Eight and 9-year-old students learned how to be punctual for rehearsal times, that instead of being held in the classroom, they were being held on Zoom. While Clapp’s original intent was to help students learn grammar, he quickly released that “Zoomarella” was teaching his students more important life skills.

“Yes, they’re 8 years old, but when we say, ‘we need some light behind you,’ what we’re really saying is, ‘what can you do to put a light behind you?’” he explained.

“These kids have become set designers, light designers, camera operators. It’s amazing,” he added.

And for students facing isolation at home, rehearsals offered a sense of a vehicle for creativity that might have otherwise been lost when the school closed.

“The stuff that has been the hardest is getting facial expressions and acting with your body. You have to use your body and facial expressions and not just when it’s your turn to talk,” explained 9-year-old Autumn Fair.

Weeks of practicing finally paid off for Fair and her classmates, as “Zoomarella” was performed without a hitch during the last week of school. And even though the kids might not have been able to hear the applause through their Zoom meeting, Clapp says he couldn’t have been prouder of his kids.

“I hope they take away a moment in time that’s been captured in a unique way. Instead of looking back on all this through news stories, they’ll have this play to look back on,” the proud teacher said.

Watch “Zoomarella” below: