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Bringing the stage to classrooms

Students+in+the+Musical+Theater+class+work+on+adding+movement+to+music+and+rhythm.
Students in the Musical Theater class work on adding movement to music and rhythm.

Students in the Musical Theater class work on adding movement to music and rhythm.

Alex Jones

Alex Jones

Students in the Musical Theater class work on adding movement to music and rhythm.

Sharianna Frauly McCord, Staff Writer

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“Heads in the academics, Hearts in the arts,” has served as the branding for District 13 for over 10 years. Evidence of that has been plentiful with a total of five band and choir concerts and ensemble musical performances throughout each school year. Theater, however, has only been offered as an extracurricular activity in the fall play and spring musical. This year, it makes its debut in the classroom, but the concept isn’t new.

“About ten years ago, we talked about integrating theater into the curriculum. It’s an important addition; I’m glad it finally happened,” former director and English teacher Ms. Jill Jungers said.

Theater classes provide many benefits including a creative outlet and a place to discover hidden talents. They also build confidence and self-esteem.

“Drama helps me get out of my comfort zone. It has also taught me new ways to communicate,” Edwin Pesantez (12) said.

Three theater classes have been added to the high school curriculum. In Actor’s Studio, students learn the basics skills of being on stage and performing for an audience. They study plays, poems and experience scene work through an actor’s eyes.

“It’s a really good class for people who want to get better at public speaking,” the new theater teacher, Ms. Shelley Roberts Gyllen said.

Musical Theater class covers the history of theater and where it is headed. The other half is dedicated to studio work. Students look into different themes and elements of theater. Students also compare how musicals fit into what is or was going on socially and politically. In the final course, Movement/Dance, students learn choreography. They explore the different elements of dance which include body, action, space, time and energy and then add appropriate choreography to each one.

These new classes meant hiring a qualified theater instructor. Roberts Gyllen, an alumna from DePauw University, filled that spot. She got her major in anthropology along with a minor in theater and studio arts, and then attended the University of Minnesota Twin Cities to continue her theater education. With a love of the stage and a desire to give students the same experiences she had in high school, she enrolled at Hamline University to get her teaching license and is currently enrolled there in the master of arts in teaching program.

“We are very excited to have Ms. Roberts Gyllen join the high school staff. She brings enthusiasm, creativity and experience to the program,” Director of Teaching and Learning Ms. Zena Stenvik said.

Roberts Gyllen has definite goals for the program, herself and her students.

“I want my students to be able to interpret the world around them through performance,” Roberts Gyllen said.

Eventually, she would like to add an Intro to Theater class where students would learn all aspects of theater like lights and sound as well as costume design; everything but the performance element.

“My personal goal is to share knowledge about theater, dance and acting and to help my students discover a love of theater,” Roberts Gyllen said.

She believes every student should give theater a chance, as it just may be the perfect fit. Tom Cruise got his start in acting, because he sustained a football injury and couldn’t play. After his theater career took off, he stated that it was the best thing that could have happened to him.

With the theater program on its way, the district’s next step for bolstering Fine Arts will be to add a fourth theater class that will focus on the history of theater with an emphasis on Broadway.

Drama has been a required course at Columbia Academy for the past seven years. Ms. Tara Lorence, the theater teacher at CA believes extending the program to the high school was a crucial move.

“It’s important that we look at our initiatives as a district and make sure our goals are aligned district-wide,” Lorence said. “The middle school’s program didn’t have a place to feed into. There were students who wanted to participate in theater in a classroom setting, but the options were limited. With these new classes, they will continue to use their skills in communication, problem-solving, teamwork and creativity in the classroom.”

With these new classes, the district’s heart is definitely headed towards the direction of the arts.

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Bringing the stage to classrooms