For nearly a decade Cherrystars have run their Saturday early years community performing arts classes at the BRIT School in Selhurst. But covid-19 has forced them to take their show from the stage… and using Genie-like magic, put it on to the screen.
In March, the children were rehearsing a production based on Aladdin, to perform in the BRIT Theatre. But that had to be cancelled when the country went into lockdown. With some of the children due to graduate and indoor live performances restricted for the foreseeable future, the teachers and producers decided to create an alternative option, to be conducted under current government guidelines.
After re-rehearsing their show via Zoom in June and July, Cherrystars decided to run their under-8s theatre production as a mini-movie.
Stanley Halls allowed them to use their beautiful, historic venue to film their acting scenes, socially distanced on green screen, and their dances, socially distanced on stage.
“It was a truly magical day and even though the film is currently being edited, we can tell it’s going to blow the children away,” says Sharon Ballard, who runs Cherrystars’ small local business.
“We’re desperately trying to keep our classes afloat by using our creativity, innovation and determination.”
Ballard also works as a professional screen and stage actress who will be presenting a live streamed gala night from Stanley Halls next month, showcasing eight black women West End performers. Proceeds raised from the show will go to the actors’ benevolent fund (who support actors and stage managers through financial troubles and are currently inundated because of the pandemic), along with raising funds for the Stanley Halls so that they can also survive coronavirus and carry on with their work in supporting minority artists.
For the moment, though, Ballard’s focus is in finishing work on Cherrystars’ under-eights’ Aladdin.
“Not only did it give the children a much-needed opportunity to unleash their creativity, it gave us the chance to say goodbye to our graduates while also providing our freelance performing arts teachers their first opportunity to work after many months,” she told Inside Croydon.
“This pandemic has affected our young children’s emotional and social development quite drastically, so providing them with a covid-safe opportunity to be creative within such an inspiring venue and set up provided a much-needed pick-me-up.”
The BRIT School has had to cancel any additional hires, such as Cherrystars’ Saturday classes, until the October half term at the earliest. Which has meant that Ballard and her colleagues have had to make alternative plans.
“Our teaching staff are all freelance jobbing actors, and with theatres closed, many pantos cancelled, and film and television shows scaling down their casts to allow for social distancing, the majority of our acting work is being cancelled,” Ballard says.
“Right now, allowing our beloved community classes to close, potentially indefinitely, is quite simply not an option.
“Many other arts organisations who own their premises have the choice to return in September, meaning that we could lose children to other venues or after six months without face-to-face classes – simply lose the relationships that we have built up with families within the community.
“We are therefore incredibly grateful that the Stanley Halls has stepped forward and offered us a temporary home. Their kindness in opening their space to us during this unprecedented time allows us to continue offering our unique classes in a new, covid-friendly way to children in our local community and in turn provide much-needed work for our professional arts freelancers.
“We remain optimistic that we will be back and operating in our studio at the BRIT School by the upcoming 2021 spring term, in time for our 10-year anniversary celebrations.
“If live performances still aren’t an option on our anniversary, then we would love to make an even more ambitious and innovative film production with our students, to mark the occasion.”
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