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HomeArtPine Grove Elementary School’s Aspiring Thespians

Pine Grove Elementary School’s Aspiring Thespians

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On April 26th and 27th, Pine Grove Elementary students performed in a production of “The Little Mermaid.” It was co-directed by fifth-grade teachers Chris Rocanelli and Kimberly Morse.

Rocanelli is a product of Hernando County Schools and, at an early age, developed a love for theatre and acting. He started performing in the Pine Grove Elementary School choir, where he acted in his first production, “Beauty and the Beast Jr.” At Springstead High School, Rocanelli performed under the direction of Mark Pennington and Becky Pusta in such plays as “A Christmas Carol,” “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” and “Seussical.” So, it’s only logical that he would want to inspire his students and nourish this love of performing arts in them.

At the University of North Florida, he continued to study theatre arts. Rocanelli acted in local theatre in Jacksonville for several years before moving back to Hernando County. He then furthered his education in other fields before earning a Professional Teaching Certification.

Rocanelli wanted to see more opportunities for children at Pine Grove Elementary School to pursue the arts because there had not been a program in that discipline since he was a fifth grader there. To this end, Rocanelli founded the Bear Tones Choir with his co-director, Kimberly Morse.

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Like Rocanelli, Ms. Morse pursued her lower education in Hernando county. At Powell Middle School she got her start in performing arts as a member of the choir. She continued singing in chorus under the direction of Mark Pennington and then went on to perform in several plays under his direction.

After graduating, Ms. Morse attended the University of Florida, where she received degrees in marketing and psychology. Like, Rocanelli, she returned to Hernando County and ended up teaching at Pine Grove.

Approximately eight high school students and two teachers−Central High School English teacher Rachel Lawyer, and county high school testing coordinator Jeffrey Carson−also helped put the show together with students who had no, or very little, theatrical experience.

“The Little Mermaid” cast was large, with many of the children playing multiple roles. However, at rehearsal, I was impressed not just by the children’s enthusiasm, by their attentiveness to the adults, as well.

Aryanna Carrasquillo played the lead. She imbued the character of Ariel, the Little Mermaid, with a mixture of wide-eyed naiveté and rebelliousness. “The best thing about being in the play is that I get to interact with a bunch of the characters,” Aryanna said.

On the other hand, singing was a bit of a challenge. Not only did she have to learn the lyrics, she had to sing in a higher octave than she’s used to.

Hailey Mercado portrayed Ursula, the sea witch. She is Ariel’s nemesis, but Hailey played her with a softer and more comic demeanor than that of a villain. Her voice was clear and loud and her range was amazing. She reminded me of Bernadette Peters. “I like that I get to be more confident and form more bonds with the people [in the show],” she commented.

Dallas Thomas plays Prince Eric, the leading man and Ariel’s love interest. He had the look of a dashing prince and a hero, yet played the part with an endearing shyness. He liked being in charge of his crew on the cleverly-designed make believe ship. However, when he’s teaching Ariel how to dance, he admits that “there’s this dance I have to do and this one part where I have to remember the steps.”

Eduardo Pastrana portrayed Sebastian, a crab, who adds comic relief to the play. Sebastian is Ariel’s reluctant protector, to whom Ariel’s father, King Triton (played by Mr. Rocanelli) assigns the near-impossible job of keeping her out of trouble.

Eduardo has the opportunity to speak in a Jamaican accent, which he found to be a bit of a challenge, and bounce around the stage trying to keep up with his recalcitrant charge. “I enjoyed getting to act like a crab and dance and be funny sometimes,” Eduardo stated.

Speaking for Ms. Morse and himself, Rocanelli commented, “We would like to thank everyone who made this production possible−to the administration for entrusting us with this task and to all the teachers and parents that have helped in bringing this story to life. Finally, thank you to our students for your hard work, dedication, and bravery. It’s not easy to put yourself out there on stage for the world to see, nor is the rehearsal process for any show easy. We are BEYOND proud of you. I truly believe the arts is something we should celebrate in education.”

Because of the vision and hard work that Mr. Rocanelli and Ms. Morse displayed, these fifth graders had an experience they’ll never forget. And many of them will continue performing through middle school, high school and beyond.

(Writer’s note – Because some of the pictures were taken at the dress rehearsal and some were taken at the performance, there are variations in costumes, etc.)

The ensemble [Courtesy photo]
The ensemble [Courtesy photo]
The palace chefs [Courtesy photo]
The palace chefs [Courtesy photo]
The seagulls—Xiara Arnold, Annalee Brandenburg, Olivia Carpenter, Kaylynn King [Courtesy photo]
The seagulls—Xiara Arnold, Annalee Brandenburg, Olivia Carpenter, Kaylynn King [Courtesy photo]
Prince Eric & his crew [Courtesy photo]
Prince Eric & his crew [Courtesy photo]

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