The Essential Question that guided our projects’ focus was:
What happens when young theater artists engage in creative exploration inside a collaborative group dynamic?
What happens is almost magical. In as little as five weeks, or ten for the older students, wholly original plays are formed; characters are created; stories are told; costumes and props are made and found; lives are transformed both as students and for those watching the production. Our Theater Lab students not only excel on stage, but they take the lessons of collaboration and empathy with them, as well as the confidence gained. Their confidence grows when we allow them to use their own voices to tell their own stories instead of regurgitating something that has been done over and over. The gain confidence from having to perform in front of a large audience. But those lessons learned and the confidence they find, follows them to all areas of their lives.
At the conclusion of the project, students responded to questions related to the identified Standards:
“The BCT community that we, as students, are exposed to makes an incredible difference in our lives. I feel like the skills I am being taught here will not just benefit me if I choose a carrier that involves theater, but in any path I choose.” – E. M.
“I love writing plays even more when I’m collaborating with others. You always get the best ideas when there are multiple minds thinking together. I also love working with others on and to create something that I love.” -P.C-W.
“What is art?It has been said to me that children are the truest form of The Artist; uninhibited by self-censorship, free to experiment and just beginning to notice the wonders of the world around them. If this is true, I hope that by going undercover amongst these theater kids, I may yet uncover the universal secret that is ART.” -C.P.
While our impact was halted in the spring due to COVID, our fall programs and a portion of our spring was met with phenomenal responses. Some are above, some could only be caught in the moment of classroom activities and Theater Lab productions. Our impact widened this school year as we went to Taft Elementary, a school where the vast majority of students are on free or reduced lunch. Reaching out to these socio-economically disadvantaged youth was one of our great accomplishments and we will certainly continue to go there and to reach out to other schools in the same position. Sadly, we were within days of starting our first ever program with refugee students when schools were cancelled. But we will be back next year when it is safe to do so to work with these students whose stories we cannot wait to tell.
Perhaps the greatest example of the impact Theater Lab has on students, is that all 3 of the older age group classes (we call it MainStage) would not allow the coronavirus to stop them from completing their stories. Each group created their stories over Zoom and filmed their pieces during the spring in a safe and socially distanced way.
While several of our classes were cancelled, Theater Lab remained the true gem of BCT. Over the last two years, we have expanded from 12-18 year olds to our Stage One group of 6-11 year olds, a playwriting class, and adult classes for beginners as well as professional actors (NextStage). Our plan is to continue to expand into summer camps which will allow us to offer a wider variety of classes focused on more specific areas of storytelling, from directing to technical aspects. As with our Theater Lab programs, no one will be turned away for financial reasons. Grants like this allow us to ensure that we reach those disadvantaged schools as well as allow people into our onsite classes who cannot pay full tuition.
The last two years here have been turbulent for a variety of reasons, but Theater Lab remains a steady and loved part of what we do. That is partially a reflection of staff leadership from our Education Director and wonderful artist-teachers, but it it is an even greater reflection of what the students bring to the program. Theater Lab simply allows them the space to find their voices and encourages their passions. Then we get out of the way and let them create something brand new. Sometimes funny, sometimes thought-provoking, often times both, Theater Lab students and the stories they tell never ceases to amaze us and those who see the productions. Thank you for being such a big part in making all of it possible.