By Nathan Pfau, Army Flier Staff WriterMay 18, 2017
FORT RUCKER, Ala. -- The stage of the Fort Rucker Elementary School gym was transformed into a full-fledged jungle scene, complete with trees and vines, as students painted their faces and got into character for their final performance at the school.
For 10 years, the FRES Drama Club has put on plays to entertain students and parents with productions, and for their final farewell, 30 student-actors performed their rendition of "The Jungle Book." To commemorate the special occasion, drama club alumni were invited back to the school to enjoy the performance and take their final curtain call, according to Vicki Harper, FRES six grade teacher and drama club director.
"Some of these former students are in college now, but [made] the trip back to FRES for this tribute," said Harper. "We have had some amazing talent on this stage in the last 10 years, and several students have gone on to perform in high school, college and community theatre productions."
After the play, the alumni were invited onto the stage to sing songs from past productions were played, and each of the students sang and danced to the songs that corresponded with the plays they were a part of, and for many of the students, the experience proved to be an emotional one.
"It's all really emotional and I'm trying really hard to stop myself from crying," said Sofia Quinones, former FRES drama club member who performed in last year's production of "High School Musical, Jr."
"That play just meant a lot to me," she said. "It helped me express who I was last year. Last year I was the new girl and it was like the whole 'High School Musical' in real life, so it made [being here] really easy."
Quinones said that the drama club was a place she felt she could be herself and feel included, which is why it became such a big part of her life
"Drama is just an expression -- you can go crazy and nobody judges you," she said. "You can sing your heart out and nobody will tell you to shut up. [Drama Club] is very welcoming, and this school is the first school that I wasn't bullied at and I actually felt at home.
"When I found the Drama Club with Mrs. Harper, I just connected so quickly -- it was like a puzzle piece, like a family," she continued. "I can't think about it any other way."
The current school building is slated for demolition beginning in the summer to start construction on the new school that will house both the elementary and primary schools, so for students like Emma Ramirez, fellow drama club member from 2015-2016, seeing the final production is a somewhat somber experience.
"It's been really nostalgic for me even though I come back here every once in a while because my sister still goes here," said Ramirez. "This is the last play and they're going to be tearing down the school and it's kind of sad.
"The drama club is a place that I felt like I can be me without having to worry about making sure my mannerisms don't go crazy," she said. "It meant a lot to me as a place that I could just be me."
It's that level of inclusion and interest that makes drama club and the arts such an important part of the children's education, according to Vicki Gilmer, Fort Rucker Schools principal. It's meant to be a place that they can explore their imagination to see where they fit in.
"All of the fine arts give the students an opportunity to explore other interests or to create new interests," said the principal. "Some of the kids on stage never dreamed of being a part of a drama club, but once they were exposed to all the wonderful elements, they took off.
"I was in awe of the production of the Jungle Book," she continued. "The sixth grade drama club really made the show come to life. The scenery, songs, dances and dialogue were all so exceptionally executed."