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Abraham Pierson School music teacher Gina Nedderman is preparing her charges for their final Pierson theater production, Mary Poppins Junior, in May. (Photo by Eric O’Connell/Harbor News | Buy This Photo)
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Eleven years ago, music teacher Gina Nedderman was talking with some students in the Abraham Pierson School about theater productions in other venues when one of the kids asked, “Mrs. Nedderman, why don’t we do something here?”
Sitting in the Pierson School music room, Gina recalls how she soon after found herself in charge of the first Pierson production, which she says relied heavily on homemade costumes and donated items.
“We had 26 kids in the gym-atorium as I call it here,” Gina says with a laugh.
The first play was a production of the musical Into the Woods. The show was successful, and the next year the program had received more donations and more interest from the 4th and 5th graders in the school, so the group did a production of Annie at the town hall. By the third year, interest was so big the show was being held in The Morgan School.
“It’s grown into something I can’t even believe,” says Gina.
This year the students will be performing Mary Poppins Junior on Friday and Saturday, April 26 and 27; tickets will be available in early April.
Gina says the cast has now grown from the small 26-person performance of that first year to now having a double cast and two nights of performances. Gina says the largest cast she’s worked with was about 85 students.
The students interested have to audition in front their peers for the play, which Gina says serves a purpose of getting the kids used to performing in front of people.
“Sometimes we see kids who are a little shy and timid, but the fact that they prove to themselves they can do it is great to see,” says Gina.
One aspect of performing that Gina notices is the sense of teamwork and community that theater forms in the kids, which she likens to that of being on sports team. Gina says her favorite part is seeing the kids take on a character as they get more comfortable in their roles. Gina says the kids can end up performing in front of about 700 people at a performance.
To pull off a performance of this scale, Gina is adamant that it takes lots of work from many dedicated fellow teachers and administrators.
“It humbles me that there’s all this great support,” says Gina.
Specifically, Gina mentions Denny Duphily, Anna Recine, Jessica Leiss, Ray Smith, and Shannon Robinson as key supporters of the theater program.
“We wouldn’t do it if we didn’t love it. I’m lucky to work with people who share that passion,” Gins says.
Due to the closure of the Pierson school at the end of the current school year, Gina says she will split her days next year between the Joel school in the morning, and Eliot in the afternoons. While she is excited to see what the change brings, Gina says it’s a little bittersweet because it means that this year’s show will be the final Pierson show.
While Gina says the shows will go on in the future, it will still be different not being in the same building where the shows first started.
“It’s grown into a Pierson community and Clinton community thing,” she says.
When Gina was growing up in upstate New York in the Syracuse area, her parents had her try different activities from sports to karate to finally piano.
“I was good at it and I took to it,” Gina says of playing the piano.
Eventually, Gina came to the Hartt School, a performing arts school in Connecticut. While she originally was interested in the performing arts, while at school Gina found herself considering a different career path.
“In college I taught students on the side and really enjoyed it, so I went back for certification,” she says.
Her favorite part by far of teaching music is “seeing kids get as excited by music as I do.”
“You see the light bulb go on when they see their own progress and confidence grow,” she says.
The music room in equipped with a keyboard lab, which Gins says allows the students to have a hands-on approach to learning—and a chance to show off their creativity.
Gina and her husband Todd moved to Clinton about 21 years ago after a fortuitous trip to the shoreline.
“My husband and I were living in Middletown and just decided to come down to the shoreline to walk around,” Gina explains.
While walking around, Gina says they noticed an advertisement for a house for sale. Not long after, the couple made the move to Clinton. In her spare time, Gina enjoys gardening and boating, as well spending time with her children Mitch and Claudia.
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