Performing arts summer camp survives off-stage despite coronavirus

LAWRENCEVILLE, N.J. -- Earlier this year, when the COVID-19 pandemic closed school doors, it also closed the curtain on live performing arts.

"The kids were really upset when all of a sudden they thought, with COVID, we weren't going to have anything," said Lou Gibilisco, the Performing Arts and Music Director at Notre Dame High School.

The school takes pride in its year-round performance activities, especially its summer session program. Since 1993, Gibilisco has organized this skill-building boot camp every year.

However, the onset of coronavirus in New Jersey earlier this March placed the program in jeopardy. More immediately, it pulled dozens of students off-stage and sent them home.

For the remainder of the school year, performance classes were conducted online. With the timing delays caused by wireless communication, students were unable to perform live together. Instead, they were required to film themselves singing and dancing for homework.

"Seeing the looks in their eyes, you could just see the light had gone out," Gibilisco said.

But it seems the summer program, which started this week, flipped the switch.

"First day here, it was like a resurrection. It was a renewal," Gibilisco said.

With cooperation of the high school faculty, he was able to organize outdoor activities that implement social distancing and other safety measures such as temperature checks and mandatory masks.

The rekindled camaraderie and extra dose of sunshine has students looking on the bright side.

Jillian Lee, a 12th grade student, is looking forward to "just performing live again...seeing these loving faces of basically my family."

Another student, Vincent Aloisio, is also staying optimistic despite losing a lead role in a local play due to the pandemic. "It's just really been nice to watch an evolution of how people perform and how, even after this is over, how people are going to keep performing in new ways," he said.

This musical family is now looking forward to two weeks of learning vocal techniques, stage movement, dance fundamentals and acting skills.

Gibilisco sees their circumstances as a learning mechanism.

"If I can understand you through a mask, you will have no problems on a stage," he said.

The 30-year veteran music teacher at Notre Dame High School deploys his actual family to help kids learn the trade. His wife is the choreographer for the dance program and he has two sons that assist in band and musical production.

To learn more about the summer session program, visit their website.

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