Set the Stage Theater programs offer creative outlets, life skills

Luu Pham was looking for an outlet for all of his daughter Cat Tien’s (CT) creative energy. “When she was five years old she used to write stories in a notebook, pages and pages,” he says. “She loved making up characters, and she loved dancing.” Pham found Everyman Theatre, which has acting classes for children as young as 2. His daughter started with a class and has not stopped taking theater classes since then.

The benefits of collaborating with the other students have been significant for her, he says. “Having to work with others on something and build it together was going to be a great experience for her, not just now but as a skill for the rest of her life.”

CT agrees. “I like working with the other kids because they have really good ideas,” she says. “Sometimes when we’re writing the script, someone has such a good idea, I just think, ‘Oh my gosh, I wish I would have thought of that.’”

Brenna Horner is the lead teaching artist at Everyman. “I get to teach in all of the programs and have a voice in curriculum building, as well as foster a diverse range of voices on our teaching artist roster which is really a privilege,” she says.

In addition to school programs, that includes teaching in a residency program, workshops, the theater’s high school matinee program and other youth classes. Horner says she loves being able to connect with the students and nurture the importance of every single participant.

“When we are working on writing a play a student might come up to me and ask about casting, you know, if they will have to audition or if they can have the lead role … and I tell them that we are all of equal importance here,” Horner says. “We get to unpack what that means and live it out with everyone sharing a common goal.”

That means theater comes with a side plot of life skills, collaboration and creativity, “which will serve you no matter what you do. And at the end of the day it’s about having fun,” she says.

More opportunities

Known for hosting world-class performances from Broadway touring shows to ballets, the Hippodrome also has activities for the younger audience as well. Master Classes are offered in conjunction with visiting Broadway shows and give students the chance to work directly with actors, musicians, choreographers, designers or production crews.

“We also have a young critics program which teaches children how to write a critique on a show they saw at our theatre,” says Barb Wirsing, the Hippodrome Foundation’s director of education. Not only does this promote an interest in theater, but challenges students to think creatively about the way an audience receives a story and the elements that keep them engaged and excited.

In the upcoming season, Hippodrome Foundation will be hosting a group of students for a special matinee performance of “Anastasia.” Baltimore Center Stage also provides area students with a number of educational activities, in addition to their popular summer camps. Their signature curriculum is the Young Playwrights Festival, says education director Adena Varner.

“It is open for grades one to 12 and we go to different schools for an eight-week residency where we help the kids to write their own 10-minute play,” she says. “Then we have a process of selecting six of the plays to be fully produced for the stage with professional actors and lights, sound and real costumes. Everybody comes together. It is so cool for them to be able to see their plays come to life.”

Center Stage also has a program called “Stories Make the World” which is similar to the Playwrights Festival. Through the program, children participate in workshops at their schools and write a three-minute autobiography. “At the end of the workshops there is a story slam where they share their pieces with one another,” Varner says. “It has an impactful effect on their school communities.”

Like Everyman and the Hippodrome, each mainstage show at Center Stage also has a student matinee performance. Baltimore city and county public schools can receive subsidized tickets and Title I schools are eligible for free tickets to these performances.

Here are more options for kids who like theater:

• Single Carrot Theatre offers weekend workshops for kids ages 5 to 11 on the third Saturday of selected months. $5 per kid. Singlecarrot.com

• Children’s Theatre of Annapolis offers acting, voice and musical theater workshops throughout the year. childrenstheatreofannapolis.org

• Columbia Center for Theatrical Arts has after-school programs, special needs outreach and a teen theater program. cctarts.org

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