The Princeton Day School Eighth Grade musical is an annual springtime tradition performed in McAneny Theater for the School community and showcasing months of hard work for the soon-to-be high schoolers. With restrictions on indoor performances due to the pandemic, MS Theater Director and Grade 7 Dean Jonathan Martin chose a novel approach this winter when it was time to start producing this year's Disney Winnie the Pooh KIDS musical: incorporating green screen technology and training cast members to film themselves individually.
"The musical this year was different from any project I have ever worked on. We sent each cast member home with a green screen kit and a ring light so they could film at home. This method was certainly challenging, but it also allowed for both on-campus and remote students to participate on an equal playing field to produce their parts of the musical," Director Martin stated.
"There was more pressure on the students than the usual production, because they were responsible for filming themselves, watching their footage and making any adjustments as needed. We could rehearse over Zoom, but ultimately I could not see their final footage until it was submitted, so they had to take a lot of ownership over how they wanted to look and sound on camera," he continued.
Humzah Ladiwala '25, who played Owl, shared, "filming at home in front of the green screen was a really unique experience. It was awkward at times to have to film lines on your own with no audience to play off of, but Mr. Martin did an amazing job making it so easy for us." Sarah Drake '25 added, "The process helped me to become a stronger actor through the challenge of filming scenes without being able to see anyone else."
The strong bond that exists within the class was a key element that made the process successful.
"This class was extremely supportive of each other, which helped a lot. The show is all about inclusivity—the 'Hundred Acre Woods' is a place where creatures of all types come together and live in harmony. The students' abilities to create this environment within the classroom gave them a very strong foundation to build this story," Director Martin noted.
Humzah echoed that sentiment. "My favorite part of filming the musical was that everyone was so easy to work with. We could just call each other and ask for help with anything. We all became close in the process of filming and I loved that camaraderie," he explained. Ellie Turchetta '25 added, "I really enjoyed watching the musical for the first time with the entire cast. We're all so supportive of each other, and it was a lot of fun to see ourselves on screen for the first time. From the first viewing, we all knew this would not be your average, conventional, musical and that we made something special."
The process of producing Winnie the Pooh KIDS yielded a great deal of practical performing arts and production skill-building along with important lessons in mindset for all cast and crew members.
"We all learned a lot about video and sound editing, camera angles, meeting deadlines, and most importantly, accepting what we have and giving ourselves grace throughout the process. The 'perfectionist' mentality can't survive in the arts for very long, especially when producing a virtual musical during a pandemic. So in the end, we had to just ask ourselves, 'What is the story we are trying to tell?' And we constantly reminded ourselves of that question during the process," Director Martin shared.
The final result yielded a 35-minute musical extravaganza that premiered to the PDS community via two online showings on the evenings of Friday, May 7 and Saturday, May 8. A huge standing ovation and BRAVO! to all involved!
Below: screenshots from Winnie the Pooh KIDS and full production credits
Eighth Grade Musical Cast and Crew (in order of appearance)
- Mouse: Sarah Drake '25
- Pooh: Ellie Turchetta '25
- Tigger: Aiden Wang '25
- Owl: Humzah Ladiwala '25
- Yellow Bird: Nina Feder '25
- Flying Squirrel: Sonia Lackey '25
- Swan: Carter Bergstein '25
- Porcupine: Saniya Bhanote '25
- Fox: Lucinda Peng '25
- Piglet: Ryan Falconi '25
- Rabbit: Molly Hall '25
- Kanga: Nandini Kolli '25
- Roo: Ciprianna Rue '25
- Eeyore: Sophia Simms '25
- Christopher Robin: Alice Wu '25
- Bees: Head of School Paul J. Stellato and Middle School Head Renée C. Price
- Director: Jonathan A. Martin
- Music Director: Edgar K. Mariano
- Choreographer (and additional video editing): Lanisha Otuonye
- Sound and Video: Darren Sussman
- Costume Design: Chrissy Johnson
- Sound Recording: Evan Paine
- Scenic Design: Ryan Falconi '25, Ellie Turchetta '25, Chrissy Johnson
Photos (from top): the full cast during the final song of the musical; screenshots from various scenes from Winnie the Pooh: KIDS