Mansfield High’s ‘Matilda’ cast bonds with Book Buddies Club

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Reprinted from the Wicked Local Mansfield News

By Donna Whitehead

There will be some very young performers taking part in the Mansfield High School spring musical this month.
When the cast of “Matilda, the Musical” takes the stage May 16 to 19, fourth-graders from the Jordan Jackson Elementary School will be dancing with them to the number, “Revolting Children.”
The elementary and high school students have bonded over this year’s musical, sharing a unique partnership involving theater, dance, music, reading and a bit of childish fun.
Performing arts teacher Sheila Newton said she chose “Matilda” for the spring musical because “the story and music were so good.” The musical is based on the children’s book by Roald Dahl. When she shared it with her high school students they agreed.
“I love it. They love it,” she said.
Then Newton reached out to Jordan Jackson principal John Nieratko to see if there was a way to involve the elementary students.
“The book was the perfect age for Jordan Jackson which is always looking to do more with the reading curriculum,” Newton said.
Jordan Jackson recently had a “Get Caught Reading” campaign with the Mansfield Police Department and last year raised funds for wells in the Sudan in connection with reading, “A Long Walk to Water.”
“They jumped at it,” Newton said.
So the Matilda Book Buddies Club was started. The afterschool program has 40 student members who are reading the book and meet regularly with Newton and the cast of “Matilda.”
“At our first meeting we worked in small groups and introduced ourselves and then discussed the first three chapters of the book,” Newton said. “Next, a few of the cast members acted out a scene from the musical that coincided with a scene that was described in the book.”
“We communicate with both high school students and Jordan Jackson students when we are not meeting by using Google Classroom,” reading teacher Meghan McCarthy said. “This is a format where we can post information as well as ask questions about the book and the students can answer them and talk about the book with other members. We’ve posted songs from the musical that go along with the chapters they are reading.”
Students have also used FlipGrid to respond to questions about the book. This is a format that allows them to answer questions by posting a video, rather than having to write out a response.
“The students have been enjoying the book, and are excited to see the musical,” McCarthy said. “They enjoy meeting with the high school students, and the high school members have been great role models.”
“The cast really loved it. They look forward to coming over,” Newton said.
Last week Newton and the cast taught the Book Buddies some choreography from the show.
“This is the story being told on stage not only through talking but through people singing and dancing,” Jordan Jackson music teacher Kim Holster told the Book Buddies.
Those students who are interested have been invited to dance in the show.
Sophomore Jessica Zenack, who plays Matilda, said working with the children gives a different perspective on everything.
“I was very excited. We don’t get to work with little kids a lot,” she said. “They are very creative and imaginative.”
Zenack said she particularly enjoyed building kites with the Book Buddies to be used as props in the show.
“They all seem to really enjoy the book club and are all very excited to be part of the musical,” Zenack said.
Newton has found other ways as well to find the inner child in her high school cast. Last week, the cast also visited the Robinson School so they can see how kindergarten children act.
“All the kids were so young,” Zenack said.
The cast also spent some time on the Jordan Jackson playground – climbing, laughing and playing school yard games.
MHS presents “Matilda, the Musical” Thursday, May 16 and Friday, May 17 at 7 p.m.; Saturday, May 18 at 1 and 7 p.m.; and Sunday, May 19 at 1 p.m.
General admission tickets will be available at the door for $12 for students and senior citizens and $15 for adults.​

Photos by Charlene McNeil

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