Published April 29, 2020
Count musical theater major Jill Anderson among the ranks of those in the UB community using their creativity and talent to brighten the days of families struggling with the COVID-19 crisis. Anderson has filmed herself and posted a series of videos on her Facebook page while reading children’s books, dressed and in the character of some of her favorite literary figures.
“So many of us are going through rough times right now, and I wanted to do something to put a smile on people’s faces,” says Anderson, who will graduate this May with a bachelor’s degree in musical theatre and a minor in education. “I decided to put my theater and education training to good use.”
Shortly after the beginning of social isolation in mid-March, Anderson started creating the videos, so that “parents can show their kids the video as a way to inspire them to keep reading during the quarantine.”
Anyone looking at Anderson’s Facebook page can see her in full-costumed action in the page’s “Character Storytime” section. She sings, reads, dances, uses large puppets and stuffed animals, and takes on the persona of these favorite characters while sharing the contents of the books.
In one video ─ all shot herself in her family’s Grand Island home with a tripod and blank wall ─ Anderson is Belle from “Beauty and the Beast,” singing the song “Belle.”
Move over in the video carousel and she is Mary Poppins, from her absolutely favorite movie (“Anything Julie Andrews,” Anderson says; she has a Poppins tattoo on her ankle). Move down and over a bit and Anderson is Dorothy from “The Wizard of Oz.” Then Sally from Dr. Seuss’ “The Cat in the Hat.” Move around a little to find more Poppins.
Others are on the way. By the time this story is published, she should have her two on-deck videos up and running: “Wonder Woman” (“It’s time to get super heroes in there,” she says.) and “Snow White.”
The videos serve numerous purposes. Anderson hopes parents can show their children the videos to inspire them to keep reading during this time of staying at home and social distancing. She has received ample feedback from all ages from throughout the U.S., thanking her for her art and performances, and asking when the next installments will go up. Some are shorter, for the younger kids; others are longer, for older ones. “Thank you for putting a smile on my face,” one parent wrote. “I guess these could be for all ages,” she says.
“One parent of a 5-year-old contacted me and said her child very intently watched the whole 20-minute video of ‘Beauty and the Beast’ without getting up,” says Anderson. “It’s interesting because having the character read a book is different than having a person read a book. The child is more likely to stay engaged.”
“I focus on how theater and live performance can affect the development of children, and how important that is,” she says. “In these times of not being able to bring a child to a performance, this is how I thought you could bring it to their homes.
“With so many parents having to home-school their children, this is a fun way to get them to read.”
Family members in Florida have circulated links. One kindergarten teacher in Niagara Falls has shared “Character Storytime” with her classroom. Anne Burnidge, chair of the Department of Theatre and Dance, where Anderson is student representative, loved the idea and began promoting it throughout the university. Anderson’s Facebook page views are in the hundreds, but that number is bound to soar.
Her project has also been a labor of love for an artist and singer who loves to perform, especially in classrooms of young children. It’s been especially meaningful for someone who has lost that form of expression during these COVID-19 times of isolation.
“It feels great,” she says. “For a musical theater major, not being able to perform is so difficult. So this is a great way to have a creative outlet.
“I’m so grateful I have the resources and abilities to spread a little joy during this difficult time.”