Tantrum Theater Offers Empowering Summer Drama Experience for Kids

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Although the in person theater education experience that Ohio University’s Tantrum Theater typically provides for regional children and teens won’t be possible to execute safely due to the COVID-19 crisis this summer, Tantrum has developed two online programs for children and teens that will make the programming accessible to young people all over the globe.

For children ages 10-13, there will be the Tantrum Kids Drama Class Online June 1-5, 10 a.m. EDT to 12 p.m. EDT. The series, which is made up of one two-hour class per day every day for five days, will focus on instruction in character development, dramatic conflict, and storytelling. The program will culminate in an online recorded reading, as well as steady work on a short play to allow them to explore basic acting techniques.

“For the younger kids, this is a way to engage in active imagination, it is a structured way to take the stories they are already telling in their lives — that imaginary play — and put new structure around them,” said Rebecca VerNooy, Ohio University School of Theater associate professor and Tantrum Theater Director of Education. “Theater is a really empowering place for kids to find their voices, use their imaginations, and tell their stories and other people’s stories.”

“There are the real world studies out there that show kids involved in theater courses score higher on standardized tests and that they have an increased capacity for memory and attention and concentration,” said Ellie Clark, a professional actor and theater educator who will bring her eight years of experience as the co-founder and co-director of The Girl Project to Tantrum Presents: The GenZ Project Online this summer. Clark also is a 2018 graduate of the Ohio University School School of Theater’s Professional Actor Training Program. “Just the fact that (theater) helps kids succeed in math and science beyond language and storytelling; it increases kids’ capacity in multiple areas, and I think you can see that in the kids when you are working with them, using both sides of their brain, while they are doing theater.”

The Girl Project is a multifaceted theater education program for young women that culminates in each participant creating a personal, dramatic work with the assistance of professional theater artists and their fellow program participants. Clark founded The Girl Project with Vanessa Becker-Weig in 2012 after returning home to Lexington, Kentucky after spending a decade in New York City pursuing theater as an actor.

“When I came back to Kentucky, I was involved in arts education here in the community as my way of coming back to where I was born and raised and giving back to young kids who were also interested in the arts,” said Clark. “I was interested in helping young people understand that being an artist is also about community and activism and understanding of self and developing strong points of view and strong opinions. I had a lot of artist friends that I had met all across the United States and I wanted a reason to bring them to Kentucky to teach kids here and give students of the arts in Kentucky access to those artists. I wanted kids to understand that it’s not always easy to pursue theater in terms of getting the role that you want at the theater you want at the time that you want it; but that you can always be creating work for yourself and knowing what kind of work you are interested in and what you have to say.”

The Girl Project focuses on exposing young women to women who are in positions of power who don’t necessarily fall in line with the often toxic ideas of femininity that are found throughout contemporary media. VerNooy wanted to bring The Girl Project to Athens, but to open it up to a broad range of gender identities that all struggle with the key issues that bombard young women.

“I think gender identity is so much a part of our conversation these days, which is fantastic,” said VerNooy. “We wanted to (provide an) inclusive project, an inclusive collaboration with any 14 to 18 year old kid who wants to refine and find and use their voices through theater.”

Tantrum Presents: The GenZ Project Online will take place June 8-19, 12:30 p.m. EDT to 4:30 p.m. EDT. The two-week program will culminate in an original online theatrical performance. The program description is as follows: “This two-week course is a grassroots art-meets-activism program where participants are empowered to tell their own stories through spoken word, theater-based movement, and writing techniques. It culminates in an original online theatrical performance that reshapes the representation of young people in American media culture. Each day begins with yoga or guided meditation sessions, followed by student-led discussions on experiences of social distancing, media & screen intake, multi-media culture, etc. Students also learn about documentary theater and participate in movement-generating exercises and guided writing time. The second week is spent in preparation for the final performance, with group and individual rehearsals throughout the afternoon.”

Listen to WOUB Culture’s conversation with VerNooy and Clark embedded above, and find information on how to register for Tantrum Theater’s online theater education programs at this link.