Oscar Wilde once said, “I regard the theatre as the greatest of all art forms, the most immediate way in which a human being can share with another the sense of what it is to be a human being.” Theater has always been an important part of human history. From the amphitheaters cut into the hillsides of Ancient Greece to the wooden playhouses of Elizabethan England and beyond, people have come together as both participants and consumers of theater for over 2,000 years.
THE SHEPHERD DRAMA PROGRAM
Leaning into Social, Emotional, and Mental Health
Everybody just comes together in this production.
We had the opportunity to sit down with two eighthgrade students at Shepherd Middle School, Jenalyn Stahr and Connor Treest, to learn about their theater program. A feeling they both expressed was gratitude for the opportunity to come together with other students from various backgrounds, learn from each other and share in their passion. “That’s where you come to discover your group, … where you see who you can be friends with and who you can trust. And everybody just comes together in this production,” Connor said.
The credit, they agreed, goes to their school for making it possible for them to dive into the world of theater and really get their feet wet. “I’ve got to say thanks to the school administrators and Mrs. Lindig for giving us space to do this and … letting us form these friendships. Everyone in drama is so nice, and so friendly. We’re all friends, even if we’re not best friends, we’re all friends and we all get along,” Jenalyn said.
Forming great and potentially life-long friendships is only one of the advantages these two have found to being exposed to theater during their education. Showing that they are wise beyond their years, in tag-team style, they point to the opportunity to fine-tune valuable life skills, specifically improvisation. Jenalyn mentioned that there will be times in life when, “you’re going to have to be able to say things on the spot,” even in everyday situations like a teacher in a classroom. Connor echoed the importance of learning to improvise, saying that, in life or in a play, “if things start to go off the rails, … someone forgets their line or a cue, we have to keep going. … Because life isn’t going to give you another chance, … so you’ve got to find a place and you’ve got to carry the torch from there and just keep going.”
Jenalyn also observed another important life lesson learned by being a member of the drama club – community. “…community and friends. I mean, it’s the same as a sport with community and friends,” she said. Learning how to work with others as a team and be a responsible member of a community is arguably one of the most important lessons children learn in life, and the drama program at Shepherd is providing that experience for its students in a big way. Connor zeroed in on how the drama club helps students find ways of expressing themselves. “I would say that your knowledge of speaking and showing emotion, through whatever it may be, … expands massively,” he said. Whether a student decides to pursue theater as a career path, or simply using it as an “education of sorts”, Connor says he believes the benefits of the experience are well worth it.
They may not know it, but these two are definitely on to something with their views on how the drama program can benefit students. According to the Arts Education Partnership’s website, a network of over 100 organizations nationwide who are dedicated to advancing education of the arts, “Theater education benefits are numerous and powerful and exist across student populations, age levels and learning environments. Theater education can help young people develop a strong sense of self and identity, build empathy and learning among peers and broaden the ways they make meaning of the world around them.”
There’s something for everyone in the drama program, where working together is a central theme. For students who may not enjoy being in the spotlight, they can be working behind the scenes like Jenalyn and the other crew members. “I help with sound and lights, but we have someone on microphones, and you have people working on sets and some on curtains. It’s so fun,” she said. For those a little more comfortable performing, like Connor, there is no shortage of fun to be had either. “[We have] maybe a dozen people,” Connor estimates, where different personalities come together to embody their characters. And don’t worry if you’re not chosen to play a lead role right out of the gate. “We’ve all seen this happen before where some of the [supporting roles] can steal the show and just completely blow it out of the water and help the show along, and they can save the whole thing,” Connor said.
The drama program at Shepherd Middle School is helping to teach students valuable life lessons in an enjoyable way, which is preparing its participants for a wide variety of situations and experiences yet to come in their lives. Learning how to think on their feet with improvisation, figuring out different ways of expressing themselves through the many characters they’ve played, how to transfer their creative ideas into physical results, and when and where to focus the spotlights of life, these students are laying the foundations for strong and bright futures in whatever they choose to pursue in life. “All the world’s a stage, And all the men and women merely players; They have their exits and their entrances, And one man in his time plays many parts,” - William Shakespeare.