When Drama Is Healthy for Kids

Each year, nearly 2,000 Charlotte-area students perform in a musical and learn about self-confidence and teamwork under the bright lights, thanks to their teachers along with Blumenthal Performing Arts and PNC Bank.

HUNTERSVILLE, N.C. – Most Monday afternoons during the school year, there’s a lot of drama going on at Long Creek Elementary School. And dancing and singing, too.

Welcome to the school’s production of Sleeping Beauty Kids, part of the Blumenthal Broadway Junior Theater Celebration. The program helps elementary and middle schools produce musicals under the auspice of a national Broadway Junior ® program, which was developed by educators who condensed author-approved versions of classic musicals into 30-and 60-minute musicals.

PNC has supported Blumenthal Performing Arts' programs since entering the Southeast in 2012. The Blumenthal is among numerous arts organizations supported by PNC, which has earned recognition from Americans for the Arts and The Broadway League in New York City along with regional arts organizations.

“To help students at such a young age to learn presentation skills is fun, but also gives them a leg up in life,” says Barbara Bascom, PNC Bank’s client and community relations director for Western Carolina. “To see these students put on a play when most of them had little to no singing, dancing or performance experience is gratifying.”

Students performing
The students rehearse during the school year, get feedback from theater consultants and perform for  the school and parents

Building Self-Confidence

During the school year, about 100 Long Creek students learn to sing, dance and act and produce a Broadway show. Not only do they learn about producing a play, they build self-confidence along with public speaking and presentation skills.

At the end of the school year, they perform for the school and parents. They also attend a three-day workshop in Charlotte at the Knight Theater, where they perform a selection from the musical for New York theater professionals from iTheatrics. The workshop is special, as each school presents a scene for the New York group, who offer supportive feedback and lots of encouragement.

Long Creek’s music teacher in charge, Beth Gommel, says it is a project borne of sweat, love and hope. To present a play to Broadway professionals is a dream come true for her and many students.

“It’s a pretty great day,” she said. “It’s amazing for us to be able to do this.”

Casts of Thousands

Blumenthal started the program in 2007 and now involves about 45 elementary and middle schools in 10 counties. In 2015, 1,900 students participated. Blumenthal Performing Arts buys fully licensed kits from Music Theatre International. The kits includes scripts, musical scores, director’s guide and CDs.

Jenny Kabool, Blumenthal’s education program coordinator, says the program gives many students an identity. Sometimes she hears a variation of “hey, we’re actually the cool kids here.”

It’s great to give kids a place to be themselves, and get confidence in themselves. It really helps them develop.

Show Time

On a recent school day, hundreds of students gathered at the Knight Theater in uptown Charlotte for their final feedback session with iTheatrics. During the three days of performances and workshops, they hone their skills on stage. Not only do they learn from professionals, they learn from each other.

Students discover the joy of losing themselves in a play that is at once familiar and strange as they develop characters. Student Estee Ianchici, who will be in sixth grade, is the main character. The challenge is learning to dance and memorizing lines.

Like most actors, she worries about forgetting. “I’m going to have to study more,” she said. “But when I’m up there, I don’t get nervous.”

Kya McRae, who will be in fifth grade, was cast in the most fun part, she says, playing the evil character. Smiling, she said: “I don’t really mean to be mean, but it’s fun to boss people around. I’m trying to express myself.” She demonstrates by offering her deep “mean” voice and stern expression.

Watch video (1:34) of Long Creek Elementary School students perform on stage and get feedback from theater consultants

Back at the workshop, it was the Long Creek students' chance to shine. The enthusiastic kids presented a short scene from the play where the evil character and her minions reveal their threatening side. Cindy Ripley of iTheatrics had them sing again with more emotion and facial expression.

Ripley was impressed, noting: “It’s the hardest kids’ show we have.”

“That was so great,” Derek Bowley of iTheatrics told the group. “I love how strong and committed you were straight from the start. You should be very proud.”

The Power of Theater

Gommel says putting on a play is a great way to wrap up all the hard work of the year. Looking back, she says it’s an especially gratifying program, as parents, teachers and former students all help during the school year.

“Not only do we have teachers and parents involved, but we end up with middle and high school students from previous years who come back,” she said. “It’s pretty amazing to see them come back to help younger students.”

PNC’s Bascom added: “I can’t imagine how much work goes into this, but I suspect for some of these kids it’s life changing. If they come away with an appreciation of the power of theater and storytelling, that is gratifying. But if it changes a little one’s life, Blumenthal has made a huge difference.”

Beth Grommel
Music teacher Beth Gommel loves how teachers, parents and students work together
Kya McRae
Student Kya McRae played Maleficent in the school’s version of “Sleeping Beauty Kids”

Lessons Learned on Stage

When it comes to the performing arts, children can learn valuable lessons and skills, including:

  • Self-confidence
  • Self-discipline
  • Listening
  • Reading
  • Teamwork
  • Speaking up

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