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Seek the Spotlight: Why Kids Should Give Theatre a Try

A transformation occurs when students perform in musical theatre, going beyond the costumes they wear and the characters they become on stage.

Participating in the arts benefits students in numerous ways from academic to social, research shows. Whether students are new to theatre or they are stage veterans, experience as part of a cast helps them tap into skills and talents that may surprise them.

Corbett Prep drama directors Seth Travaglino and Julie Nelson see this growth firsthand every time they put on a show at Corbett Prep, the Community School of the Arts or CAMP IDS. It’s why Corbett Prep makes drama part of the curriculum, providing public speaking and performance opportunities for all students.

Working with student actors is more than training students for professional theatre careers on stage, although that does happen. The lasting benefits for all students reach deeper, regardless of whether they continue theatre after school.

“I feel certain that every single person who does theatre will be able to look you in the eye and confidently tell you who they are,” Travaglino says. “Every single person who does theatre will be able to follow direction and execute a plan to the highest quality needed. Every single person who does theatre will be a kinder, more open, more selfless and more genuine human being.”

Students in theatre learn how to solve problems and think creatively. Their self-confidence may increase. They gain appreciation for other perspectives.

Some may see academic improvements, such as  improved reading comprehension or higher standardized test scores. Some may discover they enjoy leadership roles. Many feel more comfortable speaking in front of crowds.

Through CAMP IDS and the Community School of the Arts (CSA), Corbett Prep offers students in the Tampa Bay area opportunities to try musical theatre in a safe and supportive environment. CAMP IDS and CSA welcome both new students and experienced actors with age-appropriate productions that give students in many grades the chance to shine.

This summer, CAMP IDS will enroll first through eighth graders in Musical Theatre camp, rehearsing for two weeks before performing “Shrek the Musical Jr.” on July 17 and 18. Rehearsals are already underway for the CSA spring production of “Imaginary.” More than 50 elementary and middle school students will appear in this heartwarming musical about embracing your imagination. “Imaginary” will run from May 7-9 at Corbett Prep.

Here are three points to keep in mind if your child is interested in stepping into the spotlight.

Any child can participate. While we may assume that drama programs attract extroverts, the theatre world welcomes everyone. Students may find their niche running the sound board and lights or managing backstage. Sometimes students who seem reserved flourish on stage as the freedom of pretending to be someone else allows them to let down their guard, Corbett Prep’s Julie Nelson says. Nelson loves seeing the student who arrives at auditions nervous and tentative gain confidence during rehearsals as they push boundaries and learn what they can do. The hard work pays off when they feel the audience’s energy and hear the applause.

“They have an opportunity to come to life on stage,” Nelson says. “The lights come on, and it’s a whole different person.”

The process is as important as the product. A lot of hard work goes into a successful opening night. Cast members take on the responsibility to show up to rehearsals, memorize lines and learn choreography. This disciplined approach, as well as extra time spent reading and studying lines, may factor into the sharpened reading comprehension skills or higher standardized test results students of the arts experience. Students also learn to listen to directions and accept advice – important for any future job.

You’re part of a team. The bond that forms during a show is powerful, Nelson says. Everyone is taking a risk together, and strong friendships form as a result. A successful show also depends on everyone involved, from the chorus members to the lead actors to the person controlling the spotlight. Students have to prepare and practice on their own so the performances run smoothly. Travaglino says it requires both an individual and team effort: “You have to learn to be an amazing teammate and also to stand on your own two feet.”

Musical theatre classes may need to be rebranded to reflect all they do, Travaglino quips: “They should really be called Life Skills 101.”

Originally published in our April 2020 issue. 

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