The future of the theater is in the hands, the faces, and the experiences of children.
Go to any local live theater production and you’ll probably see older adults. When I was on the board of directors for Tacoma Actors Guild, we often talked about attracting younger audiences. Grandparents can be key. My wife Peggy and I enjoy the theatre and took our kids to see productions of The Empty Space Theatre in Seattle as well as Tacoma Actors Guild productions. As grandparents we have done even more. Theatre is a place for imagination and wonder . . . a place where anyone can explore all kinds of possibilities and personalities. We should all want our children and grandchildren to feel secure enough in their own skin to try out their own ideas and options of reality. Secure enough to ask, both “Why?” and “Why not?”
One of my favorite authors is Alison Gopnik, author of The Philosophical Baby. She is a professor of psychology and an affiliate professor of philosophy at the University of California, Berkeley.
“So our job as parents is not to make a particular kind of child. Instead, our job is to provide a protected space of love, safety, and stability in which children of many unpredictable kinds can flourish. Our job is not to shape our children’s minds; it’s to let those minds explore all the possibilities that the world allows. Our job is not to tell children how to play; it’s to give them the toys and pick the toys up again after the kids are done. We can’t make children learn, but we can let them learn.” – Alison Gopnik
I love the line, “Our job is not to shape our children’s minds; it’s to let those minds explore all the possibilities that the world allows.” Doesn’t that just scream “Acting Class?”
This summer there will be 100 to 150 students included in nine Production camps and six Skill Building/Technique classes. These include musicals and non-musical plays, a 1940s style Radio Show, a Master Class and Swing Dance. They will learn acting techniques including blocking, how to become a character, do a monologue and make eye contact.
There are classes for students from 3 to 90. For example, 3-6 year-olds must be potty trained! Other classes include grades 1-3 including puppetry, which will be available if there are enough students. Becoming a king or a princess, or a tree or a frog gives them freedom. Other classes are for grades 4-6, grades 1- 8, grades 4-12, grades 6-12; grades 7-12, ages 15-17 and 18, plus ages 18 and older as well as multi-generational classes for ages 7-90. The 1-3 class’s musical is a bigger draw than a straight play. The fiscal year for the Education classes is from August 1 through July 31. Classes are also offered for two Spring Break sessions. They also offer both production-based classes for school students and technique classes for both teens and adults during the school year.
There is a hidden treasure in Lakewood . . . and she often wears her hair in braids: Debbie Armstrong. Deborah L. Armstrong has been at Lakewood Playhouse for more than 16 years, off and on. She did lighting design with Marcus Walker, former Lakewood Playhouse Artistic and Managing Director. In fact, she’s performed practically every function at the theatre: lights, staging, sound design, stage management, acting and has even picked up a brush to help with sets or a needle to mend a costume. She is the driving force of the Lakewood Institute of Theatre. She nurtures students of all ages in the joys and potential of imagination and theatre.
Debbie officially became the Education Director with Lakewood Playhouse in mid-November 2017. She’s from a small town in central Illinois, population 17,000. She’s loved the stage since she was two. She began piano at age 7. In third grade, she was the director of “The World of Strawberry Shortcake” (based on the 1980’s television special) and taught all the other kids their lines. At age 5 she was a Munchkin in a Wizard of Oz college production. In Junior and Senior HS, she performed in plays. In HS, Debbie was a student conductor for the band and choir. She’s no shrinking violet, that’s for sure!
Some people might believe that the South Puget Sound region is large, but really in the entertainment realm it’s small. You never know who is going to show up in which theatre. For example, we first saw Will Johnson in Lakewood Playhouse’s production of Little Shop of Horrors. We saw him earlier this year in A Little Night Music at Tacoma Little Theatre, and currently he’s a laugh riot in LP’s The Producers. We saw eleven year-old Nigel Kelly in LP’s Peter and the Starcatcher last year and just saw him last month at Federal Way’s CenterStage in Bye Bye Birdie. We just met Debbie Armstrong, but first saw her a few years ago in Stardust Christmas at Harlequin Productions in Olympia.
There is one advanced audition-only musical per summer. This summer’s musical is Les Misérables, School Edition. Performances: August 9th, 10th, 16th, 17th at 7:00 p.m. and August 10th, 11th, & 17th at 2:00 p.m. Tickets are $10.
Keep in mind, scholarships are available and sponsorships are much appreciated. People donate to support classes through scholarships. LIT is now offering scholarships for at-risk youth as well as any potential student.
Three local supporters are Clover Park Rotary, Lakewood Crime Stoppers, and Lakewood Kiwanis. They all gave personal donations. Any and all donations are appreciated. Sponsors are able to support an age group class all the way up to the whole summer program. Sponsorships range from the “Peter Pan” level at $300 to the “Daddy Warbucks” donor at $30,000 for the whole summer of classes. Of course, each sponsor receives perks depending on the sponsorship level.
Kids can find fulfillment in the education program; they may not want to make the theatre their life’s work but the work gives them a chance to learn how to control their voice and body. The theatre experience gives confidence, discipline and the ability to speak clearly and coherently and an awareness of where each body part is. They are encouraged to be creative and learn the real meaning of words through script work and to be spontaneous with improv work.
So many kids feel that they are different from ‘normal’ kids, not athletically inclined, don’t fit the popular body image, are shy, introverted and afraid of being noticed. Theatre training helps alleviate fears through the confidence and competence they earn in theatre work. It gives them another opportunity and venue to feel successful.
One student was homeschooled and began taking classes in 2015. He’s very tall, shy and reserved. He became one of the most reoccurring students. Debbie loved his work but thought he needed more body work so she recommended a dance class. Dance, ballet in fact, has become his theatre art; he is in the ensemble of The Producers musical running now and is very proficient. He moves well.
Theatre students are asked to give speeches for fundraisers and other special events. Public speaking is a skill taught through acting practice.
The focal point of theatre classes is not just producing high quality camp and class participation, but to also empower life skills through the experience that theatre provides, including empathy, identity, confidence, teamwork, problem solving, effective communication and accountability.
Donations can be made for tuition costs and more. Or you can also help just by attending a performance and encouraging the young performers. Summer Classes for students are open for registration. See summer information and performance dates – lakewoodinstituteoftheatre.org/summer-2019.html#/
Enjoying acting encourages theatre attendance and don’t forget, we are looking forward to this summer’s productions. One of our older granddaughters said when young to a friend, “I’ve seen over a hundred plays!” A slight exaggeration perhaps, but she’s a theatre attender in college now. We loved taking our younger grands to see her perform at her high school.