Performing arts program offered at Catholic schools across Queens

Photos by Roopa Bhopale

Students at Catholic schools across Queens and Brooklyn are learning that all the world is a stage.

For the past few years, the Diocese of Brooklyn has been partnering with the nonprofit theater company Stages on the Sound Inc. to offer the Performing Arts Residency Program to almost 16,000 children every week at academies and schools throughout both boroughs.

Through this program, students from the fourth, sixth, and eighth grades at each school take part in one-hour-long weekly classes for 15 weeks taught by professionally trained actors and teachers.

“It builds up their self-esteem, gives them ability to be creative and allows them to express themselves, which they might not have the chance to do in the classroom,” said Robert Choiniere, managing director of Stages on the Sound.

The program is funded in partnership with each individual school and the St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Trust Fund. It is offered at 19 schools in Queens and 17 schools in Brooklyn.

Fourth-graders work on filmmaking and stop motion animation using tablets and cameras. The students get together in teams to create short animated films that tell a story.

“It’s all about telling a story with images,” Choiniere said. “That’s critical and important in the 21st century.”

Sixth-graders take a step ahead and begin focusing on playwriting. While working in teams, the children begin to identify issues they might see in their lives are important — such as bullying or school violence — and create plays reflecting those themes.

The older students in the eighth grade then work on a Shakespeare curriculum, reading and acting out scenes from plays.

“They’re beginning to learn that it’s about acting, not just reading, and [it’s not] boring,” Choiniere said.

When the 15-week program comes to an end, the students present their works during a performance at each individual school. Although the timeline at the schools vary, most of the programs will be coming to an end in February.

On May 8, there will be a gala performance and award ceremony with parents and teachers showcasing the top films from all participating schools.

According to Choiniere, this program is the first time a lot of the students are being exposed to the performing arts. Participating in the program opens the doors to a cultural arts experience and potentially to a future in the field. 

“This is the time when they are thinking about ‘what I want to do when I grow up,’” Choiniere said. “The students have latched right onto it. Everybody across the board has found this program to be very exciting.”

He added that they hope to be able to expand the program to other schools, Catholic or public. 

For more information on Stages on the Sound visit www.stagesonthesound.com.