By Jay McQuillian
For someone who loves to sing, dance, act and has a love for the fine arts, Diana Jacobacci definitely doesn’t like the spotlight once she’s off the stage. As a matter of fact, she very politely asked if it would be okay if she didn’t have to answer two of the 10 questions in this interview because they focused on HER and not her students. “I would REALLY like this to be more about the Players than me,” she said, laughing.
Diana Jacobacci has been teaching for the past 18 years, 10 of which have been at Moss Park Elementary School since it opened in 2006. In that first year, Jacobacci, a graduate of New York University, started The Moss Park Players. With her principal’s approval, she held auditions and directed the Players in the school’s first play, School House Rock! Now, in 2017, Jacobacci is celebrating her 10th season with the Moss Park Players and their production of Shrek the Musical.
Jacobacci said, “When we first started the Moss Park Players in 2007, our productions looked nothing like they do now, mostly because I tried to do it all myself! Needless to say, it’s only because of the staff, family and community involvement that our shows have grown into full-blown productions. One of the best compliments we get is, “I can’t believe this is an elementary school production!”
Over the past 10 years, The Moss Park Players have put on one incredible show after another. After the first year’s production of School House Rock!, there was a lot of talk in the Lake Nona area about this “elementary school teacher that put on an incredible show with just her students and herself. ”
Amy Morris and Lori Shea have worked with Diana for the past eight years as the costume designers for Players. Morris said, “The first time I watched a Moss Park Players production, like many, I was in awe at what they had pulled off on an elementary school stage. All three of my kids have been lucky enough to be in some of her amazing productions, and I am beyond thankful for the opportunity they have had, not only to perform, but also to develop self confidence, be a part of a cast that takes care of one another and comprehends how much it pays off when you work hard and pay attention to the tiny details. Diana truly knows how to pull out the greatness in each child she works with. She is beyond incredible, and her love for the arts shows. My kids have grown so much by being in her company, and I am so thankful for the many countless hours of preparation she spends on making each show a solid masterpiece. Lori Shea’s daughter, Regan, was involved with Players for three years and acted in Little Mermaid and Aladdin and was cast as the lead in Annie in 2016. Regan said, “To be part of Moss Park Players is a great honor. Ms. Jacobacci can be hard at times, but she is a great director. She taught me so much about acting and singing. She inspired me to love singing and acting!”As Regan mentioned, being in Players can be hard at times, but it’s a lot fun and very rewarding ,and that’s what Jacobacci strives for. “I just try to have fun with them as much as possible! I remind the cast that they are not third, fourth, or fifth graders…they are not onstage or backstage – they are all ONE family when it comes to the Players. I try to always end rehearsals reminding the kids that my expectations are high because I know how incredibly talented they are. Sometimes, rehearsals are tough, but we always regroup and move forward. Every year, I’m amazed by the characters they create – there is always that time mid-way through when I wonder if we’ll get everything done, but we always do, and it’s simply because Lake Nona kids (and their families) are the best!” It’s that same love of singing and acting that Diana and the Players used to fuel and produce 10 shows over the past 10 years; School House Rock!, Annie Jr., Seussical Jr., Willy Wonka Jr., Alice In Wonderland, The Wiz, The Little Mermaid, Aladdin, Annie, and, coming on March 9-11, Shrek The Musical. When asked to pick a favorite Diana said, “They are all special!! Each one usually has a song that ‘sells’ me on doing that show. For example, one of my favorite songs is Ease on Down the Road. When I discovered the junior version of The Wiz a few years ago, I was thrilled beyond belief! Doing that show was also a personal victory because it was the one show in high school I wasn’t cast in! So yes, I sometimes live vicariously through my kids!! This year, the Shrek finale song is the song that I constantly had on repeat not only because it’s a great song but because the message of it is something kids need to hear – that though we are all different, we are all united by the fact that we all have stories to tell.”
Its not just singing and acting. In the past 10 years, hundreds of students have come through the Moss Park Players. For the majority of these students that participate in Players, this is their first introduction to theater, acting, singing and the fine arts in general. A complement of life lessons is being learned through the opportunity that Jacobacci has created for these children.
Kim Colletto has two daughters who were involved in Players over the years, and she had this to say about Diana and the influence she’s had on her and her family and our community: ”Diana Jacobacci is a tireless champion not only for musical theater in public school, but for every one of her students. Of course, her extraordinary creativity, energy and the countless extra hours she pours into the Moss Park Players should be celebrated, but let’s talk about the fact that she is nurturing creative, brave and smart little people through her constant encouragement and work through her program. Diana helps her student actors connect their head to their hearts, and she shows them they are more than a test score. Without her program, many of these kids would never be exposed to theater or performing on stage. Not only does she give them confidence in themselves, but she nurtures a bond between the cast and crew that creates lifelong friendships and respect for their peers. Where would all these kids be now if Diana Jacobacci had not envisioned it possible to put on a two-act musical with 3rd, 4th and 5th graders 10 years ago? So many of her students have gone on to pursue theater as a passion, and their lives are forever enriched because of her.”
Diana may have started out on her own in 2007, but she is the first person to recognize the fact that her success and the popularity of The Moss Park Players wouldn’t be possible if not for the help of parents and former students who come back to help each year. “I’m grateful to all of the families who lend me their kids for two months and who support us in a myriad of ways: creating props and set pieces, shopping for costumes, taking pictures of the kids, helping with make-up, manning backstage, promoting the show throughout the community, and just ‘being there’ at a moment’s notice to help. We have families whose kids left Moss Park eight years ago who still come to help us! That is a testament to this community’s heart. I could never name specific people for fear I’d leave someone out, but I can’t not mention my best friend Stacy Ayala, who, for 10 years, has been my point of sanity during show time (and the other 51 weeks of the year as well!).
Deb Andraski is currently a fourth-grade teacher at Eagle Creek Elementary and was formerly a fourth-grade teacher at Moss Park Elementary. Deb has two children, Ashley and Jackson, who were involved with Players while they were at Moss Park Elementary. “Diana Jacobacci is a Director of Dreams and a Maestro of Magic. She finds a way to set the bar exceptionally high and inspire kids to soar past it. We were blessed that she brought out the best in our own kids and continues to inspire so many other kids at MPE!” said Deb.
Diana Jacobacci won’t like all the attention and praise she’s going to get from this article! She will, however, appreciate the support from our Lake Nona community helping her celebrate the 10th anniverary of The Moss Park Players and their production of Shrek the Musical! It’s going to be a Shrekin’ good time!
The Moss Park Players will be performing Shrek the musical on Thursday, March 9, and Friday, March 10, at 6:30 p.m. and on Saturday, March 11, AT WHAT TIME?? in the Moss Park Elementary School theater/cafeteria!