‘It was bringing a bit of normality’ - Anna Damigella on why she held free theatre workshops over Zoom

Anna Damigella held free Zoom classes for her students during the lockdown to cheer them up Picture:

Anna Damigella held free Zoom classes for her students during the lockdown to cheer them up Picture: SARAH LUCY BROWN - Credit: Archant

When the country went into lockdown in March, theatre teacher Anna Damigella took it upon herself to ensure her budding students kept their spirits high and continued to learn.

The theatre teacher, who runs Bravo Theatre Workshop, opted not to charge for the sessions Picture:

The theatre teacher, who runs Bravo Theatre Workshop, opted not to charge for the sessions Picture: SARAH LUCY BROWN - Credit: Archant

As principal at Bravo Theatre Workshops, Mrs Damigella, an actress-turned-teacher, was horrified to learn she would not be able to host her regular classes.

So when teaching became impossible in her usual venue, she decided to get creative so she could still see her students smiling through the crisis.

Mrs Damigella arranged Zoom meetings with her young performers every Friday, delivering top-class singing, acting and dancing lessons direct from her home studio in Stowmarket.

She did not charge for the hour-long sessions, opting to keep them free of charge to ensure the youngsters could maintain a sense of “normality” during the unprecedented lockdown.

Mrs Damigella said: “It was tough on both the children and the parents. The lockdown started getting really difficult and I really felt for them.

“I had so many messages from my students saying they were missing their usual classes. “So we all went on Zoom - and it was so much fun.”

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The lessons, for children as young as three up to 18 year olds, proved an immediate hit - with more than 70 performers joining in throughout the lockdown.

Divided up into different age groups, the students performed hits from classic musicals such as Matilda and Wicked in the virtual workshops.

The sessions were held every Friday for several weeks in the middle of the lockdown.

Mrs Damigella was eager to keep in regular contact with her youngsters and tried to mix up the classes every week, featuring different musicals and quizzes to keep the sessions fresh.

She said: “The classes always made my week. At one point, the children were singing their hearts out to a song from Dear Evan Hansen. It made me cry as they were so into it.

“It was bringing a bit of normality to their lives, but it was crazy at the same time. Everyone was looking forward to them all week.”

The weekly Zoom workshops have slowly begun to wind down as more and more restrictions are lifted, with Mrs Damigella planning to resume her lessons at her usual venue in September, all while following social distancing guidelines.

She said: “I looked forward to Friday every single week, and not seeing my students’ faces has been so hard.

“To see their faces again would mean the world. We will have a party when go back to normal. It will be so much fun and I can’t wait.”

Megan Bradley, who has been helping Anna in delivering the sessions, paid tribute to the principal for her dedication in keeping smiles on the students’ faces when the lockdown restrictions were at their strictest.

She said: “Anna has been keeping a sense of community for these children at a time when they’ve not been able to see each other or go to regular classes.

“A club would be the first thing to go for these children during this time when people are suffering money troubles but they’ve been able to keep this up for no charge at all.

“Even in normal times, the school offers a wonderful family environment with a lot of children finding it as their safe haven and a place they feel most comfortable to be themselves.

“It’s really made a massive difference to these children being able to participate in these weekly classes throughout lockdown. It’s been amazing to see their smiling faces and have a slight sense of normality.

“I think it’s very rare to find a theatre school where children are able to thrive being trained in a professional way but without pressure.”

Tammy Denny, singing teacher at Bravo Theatre Workshops, added: “Anna was really enthusiastic and it was really great to hold the sessions.

“We are really looking forward to getting everyone back together in September - we have a real family.”

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