For years, mini versions of classic Disney films such as Aladdin and The Lion King have been licensed to school groups and professional theaters by Disney Theatrical Productions. In parts of the country, some schools don’t have the resources necessary to stage a musical or to provide theatrical instruction to their students. Back in 2010, Disney Theatrical Group decided to do something about that.
“Here we were in New York City, in the heart of Times Square, and schools in our own backyard in Brooklyn, in Queens, in the Bronx, Staten Island, and Manhattan just weren’t producing these shows,” said Lisa Mitchell, Education Director for Disney Theatrical Group.
Disney Musicals in Schools (DMIS) is a free program that was developed by Disney Theatrical Group and launched with the goal of bringing theatrical programs to under-resourced public elementary schools where there previously were none. Participating schools receive the performance rights to one of Disney’s half-hour musicals for kids, along with the corresponding show kit materials. But what really sets DMIS apart, Mitchell explained, is the support that the schools and their educators receive when they become involved with the program.
“We send in a pair of what we call ‘teaching artists’ who are professional musical theater artists and also professional educators,” Mitchell says.
The teaching artists work with the students but, more importantly, they’re mentoring the school educators and teachers.
“So over the course of the six-month process, the teachers learn how to become music directors, directors, choreographers, producers, stage managers, and designers, so that when we’re not there in the future they’ve got the training necessary to sustain this kind of work in the school for year after year after year,” says Mitchell.
In the past eight years, DMIS has extended to 18 cities, including the first international program, which launched in London earlier this year. Roughly 30,000 kids have now performed in their first school musical through the program. The participants come together annually in each city with a Student Share Celebration. During the event, hundreds of children take the stage for a night of song, dance, and Disney magic, beginning with a song written expressly for the Disney Musicals in Schools program by the legendary composer Alan Menken, “It Starts with a Dream,” performed together by all of the budding actors.
Mitchell says, “One of the things that surprises me most is how you can have two dozen versions of The Lion King take place on school stages around the country, and every single one of them—despite having the same script and the same score and the same plot—is completely unique to that school and that community.”
Gabby Mendoza, an educator who participated in Centre Theatre Group’s inaugural year with DMIS alongside her students at Humphreys Avenue Elementary School in Los Angeles, emphasizes that the program has had a transformative impact on students. “The students have discovered so much about the arts and themselves. It’s been a true journey, finding confidence week after week,” she says, and she notes that the teachers have reaped limitless benefits from the program, as well. “We’ve all been able to learn from each other, lean on each other, and discover strengths and passions in ourselves as educators. When we put our vision together, [we’ve seen] the powerful impact that the arts can have.”
Source: The Walt Disney Company