“Under the Moon” Video Unites Children from St. John and Uganda

St. John School of the Arts students prepare to shoot a sequence at the Windmill on St. John. (Laurie Odenbach photo)

Take 23 children from St. John in the U.S. Virgin Islands, and – through the magic of technology – combine them with 32 children from Kampala, Uganda, and what do you get? A melt-your-heart video that celebrates the exuberance of childhood and the power of the arts to showcase our common humanity.

That video, “Under the Moon,” had its premiere in the main studio of the St. John School of the Arts in October, and it is now available worldwide on YouTube.

The production came about through an act of Grace – that is Mr. Grace Magala, the director of the Kare Afrika orphanage serving more than 100 children in Kampala, Uganda.

The orphanage, under the auspices of the Uganda Mission Project, struggles to meet the needs of the children under its care. Magala hit upon the idea of making his orphanage more visible by producing a video.

Through common connections, Magala made contact with Andrea Green, the award-winning composer and director of children’s musicals.

Elena Magnie gives Noelia Lorenzo a boost. (Laurie Odenbach photo.)

Green, based in Philadelphia, has produced musicals at the St. John School of the Arts for the past several summers, at least she did until COVID-19 hit. Rather than let another year pass without a program on St. John, she put together a plan that allowed her to work remotely over the summer with the children in Uganda and on St. John.

Kim Wild, executive director of the St. John School of the Arts, embraced the idea. “I just feel the world is in such chaos, with issues involving health, violence, politics, technology. This project brought us back to our humanity, to kids reaching out to each other. And in this case, technology was our savior.”

Wild set about finding funding for the project. Thanks to grants from the ASCAP Foundation Irving Caesar Fund, the Secunda Family Foundation and private donors, Wild was able to raise the money for the rehearsals and filming, which took place during two weeks in July, and the post-production work.

In addition to the current students from the St. John School of the Arts, Wild engaged two former students Shaiah David, who served as dance captain for Renee Liciaga’s choreography, and Sage Buchalter, who took on the role of on-site director.

Local musicians who perform on the video include Eddie Bruce, Ronnie Lee, Bo Magnie, Barney “Broheem” Proctor, and Mark “Bucky” Buchalter.

St. John School of the Arts students talk to children in Uganda through Zoom. (Laurie Odenbach photo)

Green was able to take advantage of the best technology available as well as the skills of St. John videographer William “Bill” Stelzer and stateside-based co-producer/editor Henry Nevison.

Magala, however, shot the Uganda footage using only a cell phone. Although their technology was limited, their enthusiasm for the project shines through on the video.

“Those kids in Uganda were totally into every aspect – the music, the dance, and the communication with the kids on St. John,” said Stelzer. “They have such a small window on the world compared to the St. John kids who are very sophisticated.”

Stelzer sees benefits for both groups of children. “The Ugandan children get to see what it’s like to live in a place with other opportunities. Seeing that as a young person can have a huge impact. All of the children there said they wanted to visit the United States, and our St. John kids said they wanted to go to Africa.”

To further deepen the relationships among the students, the St. John School of the Arts also set up a pen-pal program that is still available to youngsters throughout the territory. For further information, contact the school at www.stjohnschoolofthearts.org.

Editor’s Note: This story has been changed to correct the name of the director of the Kare Afrika orphanage in Kampala, Uganda. It is Grace Magala.