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Having fun with Stagecraft

Theater: After-school program provides performing arts education

Posted: April 22, 2011 1:55 a.m.
Updated: April 22, 2011 1:55 a.m.

Jimmy Warshawsky, in fourth grade, left, sings at rehearsal.

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With one daughter who’s a little shy, and another who’s more outgoing, Carol Ballou, of Canyon Country, was thrilled to find an after-school activity both daughters could enjoy: acting.

Ballou first signed up Lauren, 10, and Megan, 8, who attend Fair Oaks Ranch Community School in the Sulphur Springs School District, for the Stagecraft After School Enrichment class in 2009.

Both children have continued to participate in the biannual program — held in the fall and in the spring — ever since.

“I think performing is a great thing for kids to do to help them come out of their shell and become comfortable speaking in front of people,” Ballou said. “It makes me sad that artistic programs are being cut in schools, as it adds so much to a child’s education. Stagecraft is wonderful.”

Stagecraft, run by co-directors and co-writers Dennis Poore and Michele Emerick, is the elementary-level program offered as part of the nonprofit Showdown Stage Company, a Santa Clarita Valley-based nonprofit organization that offers summer acting camps to teenagers across the country.

Poore, an accomplished singer-songwriter, who’s also worked as a primary music teacher at Fair Oaks Ranch, thought it would be a good idea to bring a similar program to elementary school children.

“It’s fun to work with younger kids — to expose them to performing arts as it pertains to stage,” Poore said. “By the time we’re done with the rehearsal process, those that come in with stage fright are excited to get on stage. We’ve never had a child in any of our shows cry and say they couldn’t do it.”

Each session of Stagecraft concludes with the performance of an original play, written by Poore and Emerick. Most of the shows also include music and dancing, in addition to acting.

While the first Stagecraft session attracted 13 children, the most recent program, which concluded on March 30, attracted 40 youngsters.

Poore noted the increased class size wasn’t a problem, as the original plays can be expanded to accommodate as many performers as necessary.

“Our philosophy is, ‘Everyone has to have their moment on stage.’ Our kids aren’t just going to stand there and hold flowers; our flowers will be singing and dancing,” he said.

“They gravitate to this, because we create shows around these kids, and they get to bring their own personality into the role. The part comes to life, and they have fun doing it,” he said.

Most recently, the large cast performed “Elementary School: The Musical,” an original musical that is not a takeoff on the Disney “High School Musical” franchise, but rather a time-travel tale. 

In the show, co-written by Poore and Emerick, the protagonist, Kara, is a young girl being raised by her grandparents.

“That’s an issue that a lot of kids are dealing with now — living with their grandparents rather than their parents,” Poore said.

After getting grounded for texting in class, Kara can’t imagine her stuffy grandparents were ever children.

She escapes with her iPod to sounds of Justin Bieber, then suddenly finds herself listening to “Puff, the Magic Dragon.”

Kara discovers she is at a school with people she’s never seen before, on a playground with kids dressed in 1960s attire.

Two of the children she meets happen to be her grandparents, who quickly become her friends.

“Kara realizes by the end of the play that they, too, were once children — that everyone has problems and works their way through them eventually,” Poore said.

Resolving issues is a theme in every Stagecraft play, said Poore, from the first production called “Little Princess in Wonderland,” which featured princesses from classic fairy tales, to “The Lazy Dream,” a takeoff on Shakespeare’s “Midsummer’s Night Dream.”

“Our plays are about how to make friends and the various issues you deal with in childhood,” Poore said. “I think the way our plays are presented is key. All of our shows have a lot of comedy or music, in one way or another. It may not be a musical, but it will have music.”

In addition to having fun and acquiring communication skills through performing, kids involved in Stagecraft have an advantage when it comes to other subjects traditionally taught in school.

“The kids that have creative outlets are the kids that are going to do better in math and English,” Poor said. “Kids have to read scripts. They have to memorize and figure out where to go on stage, learn beats and rhythms to songs, which is basically mathematics.”

Being exposed to performing arts is important for children who are not strictly academically or athletically inclined, Poore said.

“I was one of those kids. I wasn’t so good in math, but I could play the piano. I think there are kids out there, some at Fair Oaks Ranch, that you can see when they become older, will gravitate toward music or theater,” he said.

Each eight-week Stagecraft program involves 90-minute rehearsals that are held on Mondays and Tuesdays, culminating in a performance for family and friends. Ultimately, Poore plans for Stagecraft to become available throughout the SCV.

“We’ve been able to fine-tune Stagecraft at Fair Oaks, and we’re confident we now have enough material to roll out to other schools,” he said.

Other original plays written by Poore and Emerick include “Camp Camelot” — a loose retelling of the King Arthur legend — and “The Curious Carousel” — an original story about children lost after hours in a theme park, and how they overcome their fears.

At a cost of $75 per child, Stagecraft is pretty hard to beat when compared with other extracurricular activities, said Ballou.

“It’s a great value. My kids do tae kwan do, and that costs an arm and a leg. Stagecraft is definitely more cost-effective than anything else they do,” she said.

“As far as time, since it’s after school, it’s very easy on our schedule. It doesn’t interfere with weekends. I just couldn’t imagine anything better.”

For more information on Stagecraft, contact Dennis Poore at poorehousemusic@hotmail.com.

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