Our stellar 2011-2012 season has opened with a bang with our nearly sold-out run of Next to Normal, and everyone around here at ETC has hit the ground running. It has been wonderfully busy around here, and our Education Outreach programs have been no exception. We have an enormous amount of great work to do in the schools and comunities coming up this season, and I can't wait to share it all with you, our loyal blog readers!
But today, I want to introduce you to someone who will be blogging right along with me this season – Education Outreach Intern Lara Rhyner! This is her first entry, and a chance for all of us to get to know her better. Welcome to the blog, Lara!
"Growing up in Texas, I was lucky. In elementary school I vividly remember sitting cross-legged on a wrinkled white tape X planted firmly on the prickly carpet of a music room learning to sing songs – everything from traditional anthems in Spanish to famous TV theme songs. We counted beats, rests, and experimented with musical instruments such as the piano, recorder, symbols, triangle, ukulele, drums, and maracas at least twice a week. I remember finger painting, drawing, shading, and sculpting with clay. I remember being allowed to sign up for tumbling and dance in P.E. and having recitals, all within the confines of the classroom. In 7th grade our English teacher assigned us to read a literary essay and turn it into a play written, directed, and performed by our class. She gave us nearly two weeks to make it happen. In middle school the choir room was the cool place to be. I met two of the most influential theatre teachers of my life in middle school. They literally set my future path in motion. In high school the marching band was packed with students spilling out of the band hall for afternoon practice, the choir singers were highly competitive and celebrated, and making it into the “by audition only” one-act play class and school musicals was bragging material. Our principal attended at least one performance of every production and wrote each student, individually, a letter thanking them for their participation in the show and recognizing their talent and contribution toward the arts.
I did not attend an arts magnet school. This is just the way it was. None of this was unusual to me. In those days I was envious of my friends who lived close enough to attend the arts magnet high school. I was bummed thinking about all the incredible opportunities that they had in school and what I was missing out on – classes like ballet, modern dance, directing, character analysis, playwriting, and the in-depth study of drama through the ages.
Today I look back and I feel lucky. Lucky because there were full-time theatre, art and music teachers at school. Lucky because even though the school budget for theatre was abysmal and it felt like money went almost exclusively toward football gear while we fashioned costumes from carpet and trash bags, the principal still attended our performances and took the time to encourage our future participation in the arts. Lucky because I was, at the very least, exposed to many different forms of music, art and dance at a young age. Lucky because somebody out there in the classroom had a passion and made the choice to share it with us. I didn’t realize that many schools across the U.S. don’t have theatre teachers, music teachers, or art teachers. I didn’t realize that so much funding had been cut or that so much focus was now on test scores. I didn’t realize that so very many children out there may never hold a musical instrument, learn the treble clef, dance a silly waltz on beat, proudly take home a purple sculpted clay cat with ears that are suspiciously absent, or even see a play, much less perform in or write one, and hear someone actually applaud just for them unless some special person comes into their classroom and integrates this into their curriculum.
That’s why I’m here. At the age of 14 I didn’t realize how much these arts-inspired activities would change my life. I didn’t know that while I was having fun singing, painting, writing scenes, tap dancing, or making funny faces that I was also enhancing my vocabulary bank, improving my public speaking skills, learning how to read and write with fluency, practicing the qualities of good communication and strong interpersonal relationship skills, learning to compromise, be a leader, work on a team, think critically, solve problems, become more confident in myself, and so much more. As a person, the arts absolutely brought me out of my shell and gave me something to celebrate. It gave me a creative outlet, friends, laughter and joy, a hobby, a passion, a desire to be involved in my community, and eventually, a career.
I threw myself into extracurricular arts activities as soon as I could and I received much of my training outside of the classroom, but the seeds were planted early on. I changed my mind a lot before I ended up here. In middle school I started out volunteering backstage and running crew, and then in high school I started acting and decided I wanted to be a professional actor. By the time college hit I knew that musical theatre was definitely what I wanted to do with my life. Then I took a lot of different classes and tried new things and learned that I could be a director!, and a playwright!, or a stage manager! I could do dramaturgy, Shakespeare scholarship and research, arts administration, grant writing, education, costume design, or lighting! There was a world of possibilities. Since I flip-flopped around so much, trying all of it and truly loving every aspect of theatre, it was difficult for me to narrow it down by the time I graduated with my BFA in Directing. I still love directing. I still love dramaturgy, and writing plays, and arts administration, and running crew, and acting, and I definitely still love musical theatre and Shakespeare. But what I love the most is sharing it with others, because if several people out there didn’t share it with me, where would I be today? What I love about theatre education is that I can still do all these things I love and share my passions in a profound way with children and adults alike.
One of the things that drew me to ETC and their education programs was the opportunity to make an impact. ETC's programs are all about inspiring our community's children and reaching out to the most underprivileged students, giving them wonderful opportunities to experience and engage in the arts and allowing the arts to make a significant difference in their lives. If I can help one child who participates in one of our in-school residencies via the Prelude program feel confident in their creative abilities and recognize their own special talents, or if I can help one child who sees the holiday show via our Fairy Godmother program fall in love with something that day or even think "hey, this is fun!" or "Maybe I could do this!" or open up one child's eyes to a new hobby or introduce them to a new friend, or help one child improve their reading, writing or speaking skills without them even knowing it through doing a play, then my year will have been a success.
I'm Lara Rhyner, ETC's education outreach intern for the season and I'm thrilled to be here!"