When the pandemic closed so many places down, the Cleveland Playhouse was quick to pivot. They were able to continue much of their youth programming virtually and even add some new programs.
An interview with Pamela DiPasquale, education director at Cleveland Play House reminds us why theater is so important to the kids who participate and also shares how theater education programs have continued to offer theater kids opportunities to express themselves and stay connected.
What does theater offer to teens?
They find their identities
Theater helps teens find their own identities by providing a place where they feel comfortable and confident because they are surrounded by peers who have the same interests. It’s like their version of being on the baseball team. They bring their humanity to the theater – an understanding of who they are, a sense of curiosity about who they want to be, and a willingess to explore the emotions involved in doing so.
It’s a safe space
Kids who participate in theater see it as a safe space where they can express themselves at the highest level. In theater, we say that there are no mistakes; there are only rehearsals. You can make all the mistakes you want and move toward a place where you strive for perfection but you know you’ll never get there. The theater is also welcoming. Regardless of background, when kids come together in a theater space, they are all equal. Artists can express themselves at the highest level and t mistakes, only rehearsals.
What opportunities are available to them at this time?
Theater has always been important to these kids, but now in addition to rehearsing for virtual performances, the time together gives them an opportunity to reconnect and develop the relationships that are helping them form their identities. They get to have moments each week so they can say, “I am an artist. I am a friend.”
As soon as we knew we couldn’t meet our kids in person, we started thinking about how does this process look on zoom and we were able to make it seamless.
Have there been any silver linings (or curtains?)
All of the programming is currently free and we also opened some new classes. We opened a class in March and two teens from different states joined and now they meet virtually to have lunch together.
We are collaborating more with theaters around the country. Cleveland Play House was lucky enough to participate in two professional development workshops to share how what we’ve developed. We’re hoping that many other theaters will catch on and we can reach as many kids as possible.
Even after this is all over, we realize that we have a new way to deliver services to children, teens, adults, and seniors who otherwise wouldn’t have access to our programming so we will continue doing this for as long as we are able.
The “live” performances have been well-received. We followed the performance with breakout sessions for personal receptions for each performer so they could meet with friends and family and get “applause.”
If a child is involved in theater, now is the time to expose them to seeing theater and taking classes. There is so much that is available–often for free–like access to people like Lin Manuel Miranda who are leading classes.