The classroom at the Yadkin Arts Council was hot and muggy Friday night.
People were packed into the room, which was filled to capacity with anxious observers sitting shoulder to shoulder, crowded around doorways and lining the aisles of seating.
One might think it was opening night of an off-Broadway play, but it was the culmination of the work of a group of 17 local students that spent two weeks learning about theatre and acting.
The Yadkinville Summer Theatre took place from July 9 through July 19. Students in the class spent six and a half hours a day for two weeks at the Yadkin Arts Council with Vicky Town. Town is a professional storyteller, director and choreographer with over 20 years of experience.
“I’ve been in theater since I was 16,” Town said. “I started as a dancer and then I went into storytelling and I am still a traveling storyteller. I grew up in the Upper Darby Summer Stage where stars like Tina Fey and Monica Horan studied.”
During the two-week course, students were introduced to theatre staging, voice, movement, make up, costume design and set construction.
Town said that studying the arts is important for children because it strengthens their comprehension of other areas.
“The arts really help kids to learn,” Town said. “They are four times more likely to participate in civic events. They are four times more likely to win a math or science or writing contest. We’re not trying to make these kids become actors in a professional sense. We’re trying to give them confidence, poise, the ability to articulate their ideas so that they can … pursue their dream.”
Town said that the students would start the day with improvisation games to hone various skills. This served as a way to wake the kids up in the morning and also to get them comfortable with each other and their acting skills.
“We would play improvisation games first thing in the morning to build ensemble, observation skills, fluency, quick thinking, cooperation, voice, diction, characterization, master leading gesture and comedic bits,” Town said. “After playing games for about an hour we began to work on the play.”
Town said that the shocked the children when she told them that they would be writing their own play and there was no script prepared for them. She says this process goes back to the 15th century when no one acting in the play could read so they would improvise scenes and then commit them to memory.
“They spent the first week not only developing their characters and working on entrances and exits or funny business and master leading gestures and costumes but they wrote the play orally,” Town said. ”We decided that this would be a mystery. ‘Mayhem in the Museum’ and it’s about a painting that is stolen so we began to develop it scene by scene.”
In the afternoons the group would work on the technical side of their training. Towns allowed them to create their own flats, which are flat pieces of theatrical scenery which are painted and positioned on stage to give the illusion of buildings or walls.
“I built the flat,” Town said. “The kids sized the flats and then they took turns discussing their ideas of what would work best for the designs of the flats. The thing I noticed that’s really wonderful is that the older kids have helped the younger kids but they’ve also allowed the little ones to help too. The flats were very basic and very simple but every hand has worked on them.”
Town said that she thinks the program has been beneficial for the children involved because it allowed them to learn in a different way than they do in their classrooms. Town said it was difficult for the students to get used to not being told how things were going to go in the class and, instead, actively participate in their learning experience.
“For once instead of someone telling them the answers or preparing them to take a test in school, they had the opportunity to learn differently,” Town said. “It’s nice that they can have this opportunity and for once the older ones get to teach instead of always being at the receiving end of information.”
Town said that she hopes to see the program continue next summer and expand with the opening of the new theater. She hopes to see the younger students be able to come in and train for a few hours in the morning and then work with middle and high school age students in the afternoon.
“They would perform for the community and there would be an inter-generational musical at the end of the summer so that it would be a repertoire company,” Town said.
Town said that she is very proud of the work the students produced and she hopes to continue the program and reaching out to the community through art.
“I hope to keep inspiring young people and families in the community by tapping into their creativity so that they can go out and do their dream and serve their community wherever they are,” Town said. “I don’t want them to look cute; I want them to be their very best. I want them to be happy with their results and they are. It’s a really good show, and they are really nice kids.”
Reach Lindsay Craven at 679-2341 or at email@example.com.