(Secaucus, NJ––February 1, 2021) How do two theater students from two different schools in two different grades collaborate for an award-winning musical performance during a pandemic? With a lot of support, patience, and determination, two students from the Hudson County Schools of Technology were able to do just that. Mia Oliver and Lola Castellano earned first-place recognition from the Speech & Theater Association of New Jersey (STANJ) Governor’s Award Competition for Theater Arts, announced Dr. Joseph Giammarella, Principal of High Tech High School, and Allyson Krone, principal of Explore Middle School.
The students––High Tech High School sophomore Mia Oliver and Explore Middle School sixth-grader Lola Castellano––are no strangers to theater. Since 2018, they have been working with Nicole Oliver, Lissette Valentin, and Emily Funicello at City Kidz Playhouse Performing Arts Academy in Jersey City. With the decision to participate in the STANJ competition, both students and instructors buckled down for an intense preparation of the song “Caitlyn and Haley” written by Benj Pasek and Justin Paul for the musical EDGES.
The students and instructors had to overcome the barriers of COVID-19 restrictions. Rehearsing via Zoom was hampered by computer lag, so the students focused their energy on the connection between the characters and the technical elements of the piece. Mia and Lola worked tirelessly to cultivate the kind of intimacy needed for this song so that the work met the performer’s expectations.
Their efforts paid off. Mia and Lola took home first place in the Musical Pairs division of the STANJ Governor’s Award Competition which took place virtually throughout December. In the words of Nicole Oliver, City Kidz pioneer and theater arts educator, “We were blown away by the tenacity of these two young ladies. They refused to leave the piece until it was polished, and [it was] polished beyond our instructions.” With such tenacity, talent, and knowledge, these young stars are primed for success in the Hudson County Schools of Technology and beyond.
City Kidz Playhouse Performing Arts Academy is a decorated, Jersey City-based theater arts education program serving young people throughout Hudson County and beyond. You can learn more about their mission, awards, and class schedule by visiting https://www.citykidzplayhouse.com/.
STANJ is a speech communication and theater arts advocacy group affiliated with the New Jersey Educators Association (NJEA). Since 1960, the group has been a voice for including speech and theater in NJ’s curriculum. You can learn more about their advocacy work by visiting https://www.stanj.org/.