OI Brings the Magic of Theater to Local Schools

Oglebay Institute’s Towngate Theatre takes its show on the road to bring inspiration and enrichment to children in Ohio Valley schools.

Each year, Towngate Theatre director Tim Thompson puts together a cast of actors who stage a theatrical production based on a classic children’s story. The production travels to area schools providing access to performing arts and unique learning opportunities for students and teachers.

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This year’s play selection is “Rumpelstiltskin,” a familiar story based on the Brothers Grimm tale. The program includes a 45-minute show followed by a Q & A session with the cast. In advance of the program, teachers are provided with study guides to incorporate lessons into their curriculum and prepare students for the experience. In 2015 the production traveled to 15 schools in four counties – Ohio, Marshall and Brooke in West Virginia and Belmont County in Ohio.

The show is fast-paced, full of action and includes plenty of audience participation. Children in the audience are assigned “roles.” Some will portray sheep, cows, woodchoppers or townspeople, who respond to cues during the play.

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While the shows are always fun for the kids, the goals and benefits of the program are far from just fun and games.

“Our shows are designed to be entertaining and compelling for young children, but they must also impart a moral or lesson,” Thompson said. “Some of the lessons in ‘Rumpelstiltskin’ include the dangers of being greedy, the consequences of lying and the importance of making good choices.”

In addition to teaching life lessons, the program also promotes literacy and stimulates creative thinking.

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Thompson said study after study has shown that children who are exposed to and are active in the arts usually do better academically, socially and civically. “After all my years teaching, acting and directing, I know for certain that theater makes kids smarter, braver human beings.”

He said that the performing arts promote cooperation and working together for a common goal, enhance problem-solving and critical thinking skills, teach students to be active listeners and how to use spoken, written and visual language to communicate.

“Live theatre ignites a child’s imagination and instills a passion for dreaming. The arts teach lessons beyond facts, celebrate multiple perspectives and illustrate how problems can have more than one solution.”

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For many of the students in the audiences, OI’s traveling children’s show is their first theater experience.

“We are thrilled to introduce as many children as we can to the joy of theater. Sometimes it is that one experience that ignites a passion and a lifelong appreciation for the arts. This may be their first theater experience, but our hope, our goal, is that it won’t be their last.”

In an effort to engage more children and families in theater, a public performance of “Rumpelstiltskin” takes place at 3 p.m. this Saturday, November 7 at Towngate.  Tickets are just $8.  Everyone is welcome.

The traveling children’s show is only one way that Oglebay Institute brings performing arts opportunities to area youth. A children’s theater season takes place annually at Towngate Theatre. Performing arts classes, workshops and camps are offered year-round. Residency programs are also available, where arts educators are placed in schools to work with students over an extended period of time.

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Photos provided by the author.