100 Cold Waiting Rooms

Leah Shaeffer HeadshotLeah Shaeffer is Gulfshore Playhouse’s Director of Education. She will be blogging every Thursday throughout the 2014-2015 season.

Yesterday, I arrived at the Collier County Government Complex just before 8 AM, hunting through the maze of buildings until I found the Facilities Management sign.  I entered the concrete compound to begin a familiar routine: Getting my background check.

I’ve been fingerprinted in three states, four counties, and five cities over the past few years.  I’m used to waiting in very cold rooms with security cameras at all angles.  I’ve perfected my “this is going on your clearance badge” smile, and I can rattle off my personal information with alacrity.  And most of all, I’m a pro at filling out paperwork.

Why go through the hassle?  There’s a simple answer:  Our children need the arts in their schools and in their lives, and I feel that it is my duty and calling to fill that need.  That is one of the many reasons that I am excited to join Gulfshore Playhouse as Director of Education this year – not all theatres value education as highly as the Playhouse!  But both in mission and in practice, Gulfshore Playhouse is committed to providing arts education opportunities to the community that we serve.

Most children in Lee and Collier Counties have little to no in-school access to theatre.  There are a lucky few schools that are able to incorporate theatre into their curriculum, but this is the exception rather than the rule. You might think that after-school programs provide sufficient arts education experiences.  Indeed, we here at the Playhouse strive to offer excellent after-school and summer theatre programs for students – our STAR programs reach many students each year.  But these camps and classes have tuition costs.  What about the over 70% of Lee County students, and over 60% of Collier County students, who reside in low-income households?   How are these children being exposed to and engaged in the theatre arts?

For many such students, in-school theatre arts programs, such as the Playhouse’s ThinkTheatre residencies, will be their only theatre experience.  Generously funded this academic year by the Suncoast Federal Credit Union, ThinkTheatre will provide over 1,500 students in primarily low-income schools in Lee and Collier Counties with an in-school, curriculum-integrated theatre experience.

Why is theatre education so important?  Where should I begin?  I believe that all children deserve to reap the many, many benefits of theatre education.  I could list scores of facts and figures, from the impact of theatre education on SAT scores to the positive effects of theatre education on attendance and drop-out rates. But the best way that I can advocate for theatre education is through my own experiences as both a teacher and a student.  I have seen children’s lives transform before my own eyes through experiencing theatre – I have seen theatre help students overcome all kinds of adversity, from poverty to disability to academic and personal struggles.  And I know that I would not be who I am today without theatre educationwaiting room.

That’s why Gulfshore Playhouse’s ThinkTheatre in-school residency program is so, so important to the children of our community, and why it is so near to my heart.  I would sit in a hundred cold waiting rooms, smile for a thousand security badges, and fill out a billion legal forms (um, if I haven’t already hit that mark) to contribute to a child’s theatre arts experience.

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