If the students at St Ambrose Catholic Primary School Concord West were acting a little odd last term, it’s because they were supposed to.
The school’s Year 6 play Peculiar debuted at the end of August, continuing a strong history of annual performances tailor-made for the school’s senior students.
Every St Ambrose child in Year 6 was featured in the play, and each played a character custom-written and costumed to suit their personality and performance experience.
“The show’s about a boy who feels that he’s peculiar,” explained Year 6 student Molly Lutton, who plays a dancing puppet.
“So he sits down and watches the world go by and realises he’s not as peculiar as a lot of people around him, and that the world is just strange.”
Having previously studied theatre and performed in guest roles and TV commercials, Mr Pelizzari felt he could help the school address a lack of involvement in the performing arts, and has been supported by a team of eager teaching staff, a slew of parent volunteers and Sydney Catholic Schools’ CaSPA program.
“A lot of people would say that if they want to be performers they can go and act after school – but that’s not what this program is about,” he said.
He and school leadership agree that performance can have many benefits for children. It boosts their confidence, helps them face their fears and teaches them to give their best as part of a team – and the plays have become an important way for senior students to wrap up their time at primary school and give back to the community.
People call CaSPA to take their performance to the next level – it’s pretty much what we do
Year 6 student Cassidy Morris, who played a rapping storm trooper in Peculiar, said she still remembers watching the school’s first-ever Pelizarri-penned performance If the Trees Could Talk when she was in Year 1.
“I remember thinking ‘I want to do that when I’m in Year 6’,” she said. “It’s definitely a highlight of the year.”
Part of the reason the performances have such a cultural hold on the school is their quality. Strong writing and direction are amplified by expert sound recording and advice from CaSPA’s John Panuccio, who has been working with the school from their very first performance.
He’s advised the school to slowly add to a stock of purchased equipment rather than hiring everything, and to utilise students’ performance skills beyond acting by adding singing and dancing into the show.
“The reason a lot of people call CaSPA in is that they want to take their performance to the next level – it’s pretty much what we do,” Mr Panuccio said.
“That’s what CaSPA offers, that value add – and we’re a free service for every Sydney Catholic school.”
“I’ve got so many dads that I know who go to see their kids dance concert or are dragged along to performances and they all say ‘that’s two hours of my life I’ll never get back’,” said Mr Pelizzari.
“I love when those dads get dragged along to one of our plays and then coming up to me afterwards and say ‘I can’t believe that’.”