A Cinderella Story

Leah ShaefferLeah Shaeffer is Gulfshore Playhouse’s Director of Education.

As Director of Education at Gulfshore Playhouse, there’s always something to be wildly excited about, just around the corner. Between our classes, camps, residencies, and partnerships, there’s always something happening—and there’s always something about to happen!

Right now, my mind is spending a lot of time in “a kingdom far, far away” as we prepare for our first STAR Summer Camp production: Disney’s Cinderella Kids. I am thrilled to be bringing Disney’s musical version of this classic fairytale to the Gulfshore Playhouse stage with children ages 8-13 this summer, as the culmination of a 4-week, half-day theatre camp. Between summer planning, the release of Disney’s new live-action movie version of Cinderella, and my own love for this charming princess, my world is full of all things Cinderella at the moment. So, naturally, the story of Cinderella is cropping up in all aspects of Gulfshore Playhouse Education.

I’ve always loved Cinderella, but I’ve never really been sure why. She’s always been the Disney princess I gravitated towards; even though my childhood friends always made me pretend to be Ariel, the princess of The Little Mermaid fame, when we played princesses, due to my long red locks. But I never wanted to be Ariel. I’m no fish. I don’t even like swimming, or water in general—blasphemy for a Floridian, I know.

But something about Cinderella’s story always drew me in. Is it the big poofy ballgown? Her beautiful singing voice? Her cute little animal friends? Her good fortune in having a Fairy Godmother? The royal wedding leading up to the biggest “happily ever after” of all time?

cinderellaI never gave it a second thought before, but now that I’m going to be leading a group of young people in re-enacting the story of Cinderella—not to mention all the other ways the princess is working herself into our curriculum, somehow—I’m diving deeper into the reasons behind my own attraction to the fairytale. If I’m going to be shaping young minds through this story, I should probably know my own. So I followed Cinderella closely as her story was woven throughout our various programs, trying to determine just what it was about her tale that catches my ear and captures my heart time and time again.

First, Cinderella waltzed her way into our ThinkTheatre program, during a first-grade residency at a Collier County Title I elementary school. All eight first-grade classrooms were receiving ThinkTheatre sessions, and we had been asked to focus on storytelling through fairytales—so, of course, Cinderella sprung immediately to mind. The ultimate fairytale, right? Plus, I happened to have several crowns, capes, and ten sets of mouse ears and tails on hand (don’t ask—theatre educators tend to gather a lot of weird stuff) so I was ready to go.

The children sat in their storytime circle, eyes sparkling, hands grasping for the elegant tiaras and shiny capes (and yes, even the fuzzy mouse ears) as we began to tell the story. The children were thrilled to don costumes and shout “repeat-after-me” lines at each other as they pantomimed all the well-known twists and turns. As they acted out the story, the children learned important Language Arts terms like “character” and “setting”, while gaining hands-on experience with more difficult concepts like “plot” and “moral”. They used their bodies, voices, and minds as they performed. It was a true thrill for the students, topped off with a rousing round of applause as they bowed for each other.

Second, the royal carriage rolled, metaphorically speaking, through the doors of our community partner organization, the Children’s Museum of Naples. We had arrived, tiaras and tutus in tow, for a special Spring Break day of theatre arts programming. We love to partner with other local organizations that serve the hearts and minds of our community’s children, so C’MON (as it is affectionately known) is a no-brainer partnership!

It was a privilege and joy to interact with the families visiting the Children’s Museum that day. We performed an “active storytime” of Cinderella with the younger students, who were captivated by the timeless tale and gleeful as they were encouraged to participate through sound and motion. We broke out the costumes for the slightly older children, who took on roles as we performed a short play version of the fairytale for the families visiting the Museum. Smiles and laughs filled the C’MON Atrium throughout the day as families filtered in and out, all having the chance to experience theatre first-hand.

TIMG_4685hird, our STAR Academy students in our Spring after-school classes will be experiencing musical theatre through the songs and scenes of Disney’s Cinderella Kids, showing off their new skills in a showcase performance for family and friends in May. Teaching these little STARs to sing, act, and dance is a delight, and fills me with happy anticipation for what lies ahead this summer!

So what is Cinderella’s appeal? What about her has sparked the creativity and excitement of children all over our community, all over the world – and my inner child as well? Her story has drama, intrigue, glitter and glam – elements of the arts that fascinate children and adults, boys and girls alike. But beyond the dazzle, Cinderella’s story is one of dreams and hope. Cinderella stands for a chance to be heard, to follow your heart, and to create a better, brighter tomorrow.

Why perform Cinderella in our STAR Summer Camps? Because through this sparkling story, the most revered of all princesses has the power to change a child’s life through the power of theatre.

Cinderella has worked little miracles throughout this semester. She gave a little girl, an English Language Learner, the confidence to speak in front of her classmates. She opened a little boy’s eyes to the possibility that kings and princes exist on stage, too—not just princesses! She captivated a crowd of curious toddlers, opening their eyes to the magic of theatre—maybe for the very first time.

I know that Cinderella will work her magic at Gulfshore Playhouse this summer, too. But she can’t reach the deserving children of our community alone! Did you know that over 60% of students in Collier County live in low-income households? With a camp tuition of $400, which covers the expenses necessary to perform Disney’s Cinderella Kids, so many students just can’t afford the cost.

You can be a child’s “Fairy Godmother” (or “Fairy Godfather!”) by contributing to the Gulfshore Playhouse Scholarship Fund, allowing a deserving child in our community to participate in Disney’s Cinderella Kids. Without you, these children may never have a theatre arts experience!

Please, help transform a child’s life through the magic of theatre. Click to donate a child’s $400 tuition today!

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