Theatre is a big part of my life, but it wasn’t always that way.
I didn’t discover the joy of the stage until I was in college. I only wish someone would have introduced me earlier in life because now I see how beneficial it can be in the lives of young people.
The Public Schools of Robeson County is making those life-changing opportunities available for students through its Children’s Theatre Arts Program. “Mary Poppins” will be presented March 8 and 9 in schools and a public performance will be held March 10. Auditions were held earlier this month.
Theatre is both fun and educational, a combination that educators have found to be favorable for students. Live theatre engages audiences in ways that TV and movies cannot. Even children who are not interested in the stage can learn from it.
According to Science Daily, a study conducted by the University of Arkansas found that live theatre enhances literary knowledge and it can also help students demonstrate tolerance and empathy for their fellow students. They also increased their vocabulary and understood the concept of storyline plot better. Indirectly, arts programs like theatre can be attributed to better discipline and organization, as well as better overall communication skills.
The Children’s Theatre Arts Program started as a way to offer after-school enrichment activities for PSRC students in second through seventh grades. It has since become a program that brings students and parents together from across the county to learn the value of working collaboratively.
According to the program’s director, Doug Fox, the experience has a transformative effect on its participants.
“It’s always amazing to see how children blossom doing theatre,” Fox said. “They often come to us so shy and afraid and they ‘graduate’ as confident individuals who can present themselves well.”
Fox said that for many participants, it’s the only time they will engage with live theatre, either as a participant or audience member. For some, that one experience can be an introduction to a life-long love for literature and performance; for others it might provide an appreciation for cultural arts.
“By attending or participating in a CTAP show, the children get to experience the ‘magic’ of live theatre, a ‘magic’ unlike any TV show, film, or video game,” Fox said.
Fox’s observation is in line with the study in Science Daily. Live performances have different effects on students than TV. Other benefits touted by the Children’s Theatre Arts Program include creative development, critical thinking and problem-solving skills, as well as technical skill in improvisation, acting and performing. Students are also better able to research and write about history and literature.
It is very likely that students participating in the theatre program are becoming better prepared as students about to enter high school. More employers are looking for soft skills in their hires, and it takes time to develop public speaking, communication and presentation skills. And students learn these valuable traits in very passive and non-invasive ways.
Sandra Carter, arts education supervisor for the school system, concurs.
“Our students have learned to speak and perform in front of large audiences,” she said. “They’ve learned the value of working together and working hard — yes, theatre is hard work, and these students learn how to commit to a project and follow through to the end despite the hurdles they face.”
Carter added that the program’s production team has been together for 12 years, a testament to its commitment to serve the county’s children.
“They devote so much of their artistic selves and time to helping these young thespians grow,” Carter said.
As we work to promote a greater, more educated and viable society, let’s not forget about the investments we can make. If you cannot attend “Mary Poppins” in March, find out how you can contribute or help. We are blessed to have such good programs in our county. The first step to supporting them is recognizing the return on investment they deliver over time.
The performance of “Mary Poppins” will be at Lumberton Junior High School. For information about purchasing tickets or attending the show, contact Joy Ivey at 910-671-6000 to reserve in advance.
James Bass is the executive director of Givens Performing Arts Center at The University of North Carolina at Pembroke. He may be reached at: [email protected]