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Theater Lab and Stage One

Boise Contemporary Theater

Theater Lab (TL) uses a curriculum in which youth collaborate to conceive, write and perform original plays that draw from their life experience and give them a voice. It reinforces language arts skills, social-emotional development, arts and crafts, public speaking, interpersonal communication, etc. We held 4 TL classes for ages 12-18, 4 TL Stage One classes for ages 6-11, 1 session over the summer, and 2 classes over the fall, winter, and spring breaks — all at BCT. Excluding the 1-week break camps, all were multi-week sessions at BCT.

We also held TL Outreach programs at 15 local schools. At schools, we can reach considerably more students who otherwise would be unable to experience our creative process of theater education.

We worked with the Boise Phil, helping write the story to go with their youth outreach program at the Morrison Center. We cast and directed the show and had 2 actors perform. Over 12,000 students were served over the 4 days’ 7 performances.

The Essential Question that guided our projects’ focus was:

What happens when artists use their imaginations and/or learned skills while engaging in creative exploration and inquiry?

Theater Lab (TL) is not a traditional theater education program where students rehearse and present existing plays. Instead, they collaborate to create and perform original plays. Each student served as a playwright, actor, and director. Students found their voices, became more confident in their ideas and abilities, and gained a better understanding of themselves and others. Each offered ideas for the piece, and they decided which to use as a group. Even good ideas may not work in the context of the play. They learned when to champion their ideas and when to let go. This is a level of maturity not often seen at that age. When developing their characters, they considered what kind of character would fit in the world they created, what their character wanted, and their relationships with others. This helped students develop empathy and connectedness. The shared process of creating theatrical work and developing creative skills inspired a strong sense of trust, empathy, and community. The students were encouraged to explore to try, fail and succeed.

At the conclusion of the project, students responded to questions related to the identified Standards:

TH:Cr2-4.a Collaborate to devise original ideas for a drama/theatre work by asking questions about characters and plots:

The students worked together to create original multicharacter scripts to be performed by the whole group. 3 sample scripts are attached. A student’s post-program survey shared, “The writing process is very fun because of all the unique ideas everyone gets to throw in, and then performing is just a blast as always as it’s the culmination of all your work.”

TH:Cr1.1.3.b. Imagine and articulate ideas for costumes, props and sets for the environment and characters in a drama/theatre work:

In developing their characters and the story, students created the concepts for the sets, props and costumes for their plays. “The best part about it is working closely together. We have these little books that we write in. My favorite part was designing the world,” from a 7-year-old Stage One student who played a peacock.

TH.Cr3.1.HSI.a. Practice and revise a devised or scripted drama/ theatre work using theatrical staging conventions:

The students studied stage movement, stage combat, blocking, etc. as they prepared their plays for performance. Our work samples show the culmination of their studies.

Impact

We think of impact largely in terms of students’ experiences. In addition to TL’s impact relative to Core Arts Standards, it deeply affected students emotionally and socially. TL’s impact goes beyond theater-making; it’s being seen and having a safe place. We received feedback from teachers who shared how the Outreach program impacted their students. One wrote, “I cannot express how much this meant to our students and families. Our school has over 600 students. We are a high poverty school and many of our kids don’t get opportunities to participate in extracurricular activities unless they are free. Due to covid, these fifth graders hadn’t been able to have extracurriculars or field trips provided by the school since they were first graders… I had multiple parents tell me, ‘We need more stuff like this!’… The lessons were well crafted and tied into content that the students are learning in the classroom. I also noticed incredible growth in confidence from students experiencing anxiety. Sometimes it’s difficult to believe that 5 classes can make a difference in a child’s life, but I watched one child with severe anxiety learn skills that helped her be able to perform. Each of the students learned and grew in some way.”

Reflection

We were delighted with how many schools we reached this year for outreach; far more than we have in the past, with 15 total. There were 19 days in a one-month period that we were in multiple schools. Working with kids from Caldwell to Mountain Home (68 miles) was a great accomplishment for us. These students and faculty were so grateful for us coming out to them. They are already planning to have us return during the upcoming school year.

From teacher feedback, the impact they saw on their kids was striking. They were blown away that we could do what we do in such a short amount of time. They said “it was like magic.” For example, to see shy kids gain the confidence to speak in public, to seeing how all ideas come together at the last minute is remarkable. Our in-house program grew significantly too. We added a summer program for the first time with four classes. The majority of classes were sold out.

The most challenging part of our educational programs is finding qualified staff willing to work part-time for the wage that we can offer. We struggle to find extra revenue to afford to pay higher wages and provide more hours for a lead teacher. Our teachers have other jobs because our work is inconsistent part-time seasonal work. In a perfect world, we could pay them a living wage so they don’t have to work other jobs which would allow us to offer more classes.

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