‘Oh, The Thinks You Can Think’

June 1, 2010 | By More

Every summer, parents in the River Valley are faced with finding ways to keep their school aged children busy and productive during the long vacation.

Sports programs and outdoor activities are great for many children, and excellent programs exist that promote team work and dedication. But what about children who are drawn to artistic expression rather than organized athletics? Where do they go to learn teamwork, cooperation and to build self confidence? They go on stage.

Stages Theatre for Youth at the University of Ozarks in Clarksville has been running a popular summer program for young performers from 6 to 18 years of age for the past 14 years.

“Theatre can give children a chance to be part of something bigger than themselves. It’s a collaborative effort with a common goal,” said 1991 U of O Alumni Ginny Sain, director of Stage Theatre for Youth, director of the Walton Arts and Ideas Series and director of Communication Education at U of O. After working in children’s theatre in Oklahoma and Texas, Sain came back to U of O in 1997 and started the Stages program the same year.

“In addition to fostering a life-long love of the arts, our program is designed to promote self-awareness and communication skills, foster self-confidence, and encourage team work and responsibility, explained Sain. We encourage our young performers to think creatively and they love it.”

The program also encourages students who prefer to work backstage building sets, designing costumes and participating in other important backstage activities. “We have a place for everyone,” said Sain.

Although organized athletics are not included in the program, Stages is very physically demanding and our kids leave totally physically exhausted at the end of the day. We have nine-hour long rehearsals in the summer, including dance rehearsals and lots of really physical stuff, said Sain.

This year, a total of 60 kids will be working on-stage and back-stage to produce three shows; two plays and a musical. This is not really a summer camp, said Sain. Kids come to rehearsals at a specific time every week for two or three weeks depending on the production; three weeks for the musical and two weeks for each play. While some young performers audition for all three, others only audition for one or two productions, she added. Other “core groups” of students also participate in plays throughout the year, as part of a serious, on-going theatre training program.

“Everything our children do here helps teach them important life lessons in a fun, rewarding way. The older performers help mentor the younger ones, who in turn, are happy for the extra attention,” said Sain. “Kids that are good at athletics often get a lot of praise and attention, but the more creative and artistic ones don’t always get the attention they deserve. Our program gives them that.”

The summer’s big musical production, “Suessical” seems to embody the program’s creative, nurturing philosophy. “Oh, the Thinks You Can Think” is one song from the musical, which features popular Dr. Suess characters including the Cat in The Hat, Horton the Elephant, Jojo who can hear the Whos from Whoville, and the Grinch. Another song that gives kids something to think about is the aptly named, “How Do You Raise a Child?”

Two plays will also be produced. “And a Child Shall Lead” is a story about children in a Nazi camp and how they use art to transcend their circumstances. The play’s dark subject matter is an exercise in achieving social change through art, said Sain. It shows children how theatre can be more than entertainment and that it can affect change in the world.

“Eleemosynary” is about a girl participating in a national spelling bee and revolves around her relationship with her mother and grandmother. Eleemosynary, which means charitable works of kindness, is the word she is given to spell. Again, there is a moral to the story, teaching life lessons along the way.

Another valuable skill these young performers learn is flexibility and adaptability, said Sain. Last winter, during a matinee production put on for high school students of “The Glass Menagerie” by Tennessee Williams, there was a scene in which actor, Weston Kemp, a high school junior, was supposed to knock off some glass statues onto the floor. In the process, Kemps foot accidentally got caught under the edge of the table topped with glass ornaments. The table fell on top of Kemp and a lamp also fell and broke over his head. The two girls on stage with him looked horrified, but Weston shook it off and stayed in character and the scene ended without the audience knowing anything was wrong.

“Even the kids backstage thought it was supposed to happen! That’s a good example of “the show must go on” adaptability,” said Sain.

Students who participate by invitation year-round in Company One for 5th to 8th graders or the “Professional Training Company” for 9-12 grade students are also exposed to other exciting learning opportunities. These students have taken field trips to New York City to see Broadway shows, to Disneyland to participate in performance seminars, even to London, England.

“The first year, we took eight kids to London. Some of them had never even been on an airplane before,” said Sain.

Whether students participate for only one summer, or come back every year until they graduate from high school, most seem to feel they are part of a big theatre family.

“We have so many kids who literally grew up in the program,” said Sain. They always talk about the relationships they formed and many in the core group have gone on to pursue careers in the theatre.

Two kids who started the program together in kindergarten or 1st grade and kept at it until they graduated are Robert Frost and Caitlin Krohn. Frost, 18, is now enrolled at South Western University in their theatre program and Krohn, 19, is majoring in theatre at the University of Tulsa.

“Stages for Youth means so much to me, said Krohn. The first things that came to mind are home and family. I found another family there, people I can’t imagine my life without. I found a place that accepted me for who I am and allowed me to slowly discover who I was and what I wanted to be. I not only had a wonderful chance to get a solid base for theatre techniques or literature to give me something to start with at college, but I learned about life and found relationships and people that I will carry with me forever.”

For further information on the Stages Theatre program at U of O call Director, Ginny Sain at her office 479-979-1346 or visit the program website at www. kidsonstage.info.

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