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City School District's ROC City Players premiere first musical since pandemic began

ROC City Players perform Disney's "High School Musical" this weekend.
ROC City Players perform Disney's "High School Musical" this weekend.

At East High School on Main Street, about 45 students from different schools around the district have banded together to create their version of Disney’s “High School Musical.”

For the first time since the pandemic began, the Rochester City School District’s ROC City Players are putting on a play.

Some are in elementary school, others in high school. Some are on stage, others behind the scenes. There is a place for everyone in theater, said Dominic Pickard, the district’s director of arts.

“You’re gaining the self-confidence and self-awareness that ‘It’s OK to be who I am,’ and also in a sense join this magical world where ‘I can be someone or something else as well,’” Pickard said.

In the past two years, students have endured bouts of isolation in quarantine and remote learning. Extracurricular activities like theater give students a chance to find joy and a sense of togetherness, said Deputy Superintendent Kathleen Black.

“While reading is important and doing math is important, kids are kids,” Black said, “and we’ve got to tap into the other things that are equally important to making them well-rounded little people or big people.”

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In a 2018 study about social-emotional learning through drama, Turkish professor Hakan Usakli concluded that “Drama gives children opportunities to explore, discuss and deal with difficult issues and to express their emotions in a supportive environment. … It encourages them to think and act creatively, developing critical thinking and problem-solving skills that can be applied in all areas of learning.”

District musical director Taylor Johnson, who also teaches music at John James Audubon School 33, said seeing students help each other throughout the process has been rewarding, but putting on a play amid COVID-19 has been anything but easy.

“This is definitely the most challenging show we’ve had to do because kids are out for two weeks if they’re exposed and have to be home, so the fact that they were able to get this together is just incredible to me,” Johnson said.

Students from fourth through 12th grades will perform wearing clear masks, and audience members will be socially distanced. The curtain rises at 7 p.m. on Friday and Saturday evenings.

Noelle E. C. Evans is WXXI's Murrow Award-winning Education reporter/producer.