How children and teens benefit from being on the stage, as well as behind the scenes.
We are a community fortunate enough to have numerous opportunities for our children and teens to become involved in theater, where they can gain experiences that forever positively impact their lives. Whether they are interested in being in the lead role of a production or behind the scenes in costumes, make-up, or lights and sound, there is a place for all in the world of theater.
Michael Strawderman has plenty of years under his belt to know just the stage’s impact on children and teens. A theater teacher at Thomas Harrison Middle School in Harrisonburg for thirty years, Michael has done it all, from one-act plays to full-length productions and musicals. He produced over 220 productions during his time at Thomas Harrison Middle School. Now retired, Michael keeps his theater light aglow as a member of the Off Broadway Players, based in Broadway.
Just last holiday season, Michael directed the very popular children’s production, A Christmas Story. “Involvement in a theatrical production provides youth a platform to meet others and forge new (and many times, long-lasting) friendships. By the end of a typical 2-3 month rehearsal, members of both the cast & crew become a family. While there was always a lot of hard work and long hours, students were always a bit teary-eyed after the final show because that routine of working together with their new family of friends was coming to an end.”
He emphasizes how he believes there is a place for everyone in the theater. ” there’s a whole crew of folks backstage that have equally important responsibilities as well (light board operators, stage crew, make-up and costumes, sound board operators, etc.). I always loved how theatre provided a safe outlet for my middle-schoolers to try something new and gain positive experiences, no matter what their interests.”
Lincoln Fletcher, one of the children cast in the production A Christmas Story, and most recent production done by the Off Broadway Players, The Best Christmas Pageant Ever, has been involved in numerous productions not only with the Off Broadway Players, but also with his school, and several local theater camps. He shared his experience with us recently, and said, “I believe that my experience in theater has had a very positive impact on me! I find myself being more confident in presenting things in front of my class and in public speaking. I find acting and theater very fun, but I have had to overcome some challenges. Two of the main challenges I have faced are singing in front of large crowds, and dancing in front of large crowds. Although these were tough at the start, my confidence in my skills get better with each production! I have really enjoyed participating in these productions, and I am very excited to do more!”
The skills children and teens gain by being involved in theater go on to serve them as they embark on their lives beyond high school. “Employers want their employees to show up on time, meet deadlines, know how to cooperatively work with others, think on their feet, possess self-confidence and be confident enough to problem solve on their own.” Says Michael Strawderman. “When I directed shows at my middle school, I spent a lot of time guiding and coaching my students on their various responsibilities.
On opening night however, I turned the ownership of the show over to them. I felt a bit like a mother bird who was sending her young out of the nest to fly on their own. They did everything – from handling all of the technical responsibilities backstage to hitting their cues onstage. And as is often the case with live theatre, when unexpected things like a forgotten line or a malfunctioning set piece occurred, it was up to the students to problem solve and make the best of the situation.”
Only a small number of teens go on to pursue theater as a career of choice in life. However, the bonds they make, the skills they acquire, and the everlasting memories they form will forever stay with them. Many folks involved in theater in their younger years find themselves rekindling those acting flames and enjoying performing with local theater groups after raising their children and retiring from their careers.