From university to community… and back

From Hailey: About two months into my freshman year, I lightly protested as Dexter pulled me to my first OutRegis! meeting. “I’ve never done improv before! I don’t know how! I’m nervous. What if I’m not funny? I’m not funny. I know I’m not.” Despite, these protests, I was curious and continued to walk with him into rehearsal. I spent the rehearsal on the receiving end of hurled encouragement as I fumbled through scenes and tried to internalize the “rules of improv” that I had learned just that day. I walked out embarrassed; at the same time, I walked out knowing that I had found my home. I only did traditional theatre in high school, directing and acting in pre-scripted, school-appropriate plays. In lieu of that, I fell in love with the semi-structured, organic nature of improvisational theatre.

In fact, I fell in love with it so much that I wanted to spread it. Earlier this year, I founded (along with five other artists) Chimerical Children’s Theatre, a summer youth theatre program dedicated to the youth themselves. All six of us had worked in other youth theatres and had noticed that the format was based around the final performance, working the participants in rehearsals in order to put on a good show for the parents to prove their money was well spent. We decided to take it in a participant-oriented direction, instead teaching them broader skills in workshops that they could apply in rehearsal and loosening our grip on the creative aspects in favor of guiding and letting them learn hands-on; it was messy, but much more productive in the learning department. This winter, we are pioneering a sketch-comedy-and-improv intensive workshop, titled Chimerical Creations Camp. Another founder and I suggested it as a way to bring improv theatre into the kids’ lives and to let them create a show entirely from their own hands. Over the course of this semester, we have retroactively learned that our approach to youth theatre was fairly community-based—grassroots—and we want to further our work in that field.

The reason that the grassroots aspect of youth theatre is so important to me is that I suspect it will remain a strong influence and project format throughout my life. This semester, I have taken Dr. Janna Goodwin’s Performing Changes class, a course in how community-based theatre can be formed and used for positive change. While I do not intend to pursue theatre as my sole career, I have become inspired to use it to further positive change in my community. Already, basing theatre in the community has led to multiple Chimerical students coming to me and expressing gratitude; most say that they learned more over one summer than in years of theatre participation. Not only that, but they plan to use and teach their newfound talents. I wonder: if just basing theatre education around the students rather than the parents had this sort of effect, then what could happen if programs tried to center relevant issues, using theatre, around those affected? I know this is something that I’ll have to explore, as I continue bouncing ideas and inspiration between OutRegis!, performance classes at Regis, Chimerical Children’s Theatre, and whatever other projects come of this. I have seen how other grassroots organizations have affected their communities. I want to be next.

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