This month, for the first time, I had the opportunity to do something I had never done before: Watch Gulfshore Playhouse Education’s ThinkTheatre program in action.
As Director of Education at Gulfshore Playhouse, you might think it odd that I had never observed our in-school residency program before. In fact, I have been unable to observe because, before 2015, I myself was not only creating the program curriculum, but also teaching the program in a variety of Title I schools throughout Lee and Collier County. This experience was immensely valuable to me in shaping and reshaping the way that ThinkTheatre works, and in maximizing the program’s effectiveness.
In January, however, Kate Dirrigl joined Gulfshore Playhouse as our ThinkTheatre Teaching Artist! This exciting addition to the Gulfshore Playhouse family has allowed me not only to focus more thoroughly on creating an excellent residency curriculum, but has also given me the gift of being able to watch the students we reach interact with ThinkTheatre.
Being able to observe our program from an external perspective has made me more fully aware of the impact that ThinkTheatre truly has on our community’s children. While Kate engages the children in storytelling games or drama activities, I get to see the joy on each child’s face and hear the excitement in each child’s voice. These students are so thrilled to be able to use their bodies, voices, and imaginations in a fully immersive program, right in the comfort and convenience of their classroom.
I am also more aware of the classroom teachers’ reactions to the ThinkTheatre program. Though many teachers are tempted to use the residency time to grade papers and enter grades—very important tasks for any educator—I watch as they are inevitably captivated by the cacophony, the organized chaos that Kate so skillfully leads, as their students experience the theatre arts. It is wonderful to see their smiles, their interest, and their surprised glee when their students make an important connection to their classroom curriculum. “They really mastered something!” one educator gasped, clapping her hands together.
Perhaps most importantly, observing this program has made me fully aware that many of the students we reach would not have had a theatre arts experience without ThinkTheatre. Thanks to the generosity of Suncoast Federal Credit Union, we will be able to reach over 1500 students in over 60 classrooms at 8 different Title I schools in Lee and Collier County over this academic year. Most of those students do not know the basic definition of “theatre” before ThinkTheatre enters their classroom. Many have never seen a play, much less been able to create and participate in the theatre arts.
How many of these students will be inspired to make the arts a part of their lives as a result of ThinkTheatre? We can’t say for sure. But what I can vouch for is the genuine excitement, joy, and immersive learning that takes place during ThinkTheatre. Cross-curricular connections are made, educational standards are mastered, and students are given a hands-on opportunity to grow both academically and personally. I can’t think of a more valuable way to serve the children of our community.