Getting Theatrical: Students learn acting techniques

Published 7:00 am Saturday, January 9, 2016

From left, Chris Roebuck instructs two sixth-graders in an acting workshop.  Photo by Cassandra Favre

From left, Chris Roebuck instructs two sixth-graders in an acting workshop.
Photo by Cassandra Favre

Friday, the group from the Jackson-based New Stage Theatre surprised fifth-and sixth-graders at Southside Upper Elementary with a theatrical workshop and performance.
New Stage Theatre Education Director Chris Roebuck said the group tours schools throughout Mississippi each year.
“New Stage Theatre was established in 1989,” he said. “We work with children ages K-12 and perform several shows geared at a younger and older audience. New Stage Theatre is also the only professional theatre in the state.”
Sixth-grade reading and social studies teacher Dr. Jeremy Williams is one of the school’s newest instructors and said he discovered many of the students had a talent for expression in the arts.
“I also saw those that struggled with writing and speaking skills and thought the theatre experience would be a nice way to introduced them to expressing their emotions,” he said.
Williams wrote the grant that opened many doors for the students, Southside Upper Elementary Principal Debbie Smith said. The funding for the theatre program was made possible by a grant from the Lower Pearl River Valley Foundation.
“Education is all about providing opportunities for students to grow in areas they normally would not participate in outside of school,” Smith said. “We appreciated the funding from the LPRVF. We don’t have a theatre program and this offers them an experience they haven’t had before.”
Williams added that the program adds an element of fun for the students when they blend arts with the curriculum they’ve become accustomed to.
Twenty-five sixth-graders participated in a theatre workshop hosted by Roebuck. The students learned exercise techniques, theatrical terms and participated in acting exercises.
“Theatre helps students with their public speaking skills and thinking outside the box, things that make all people better,” he said. “The arts in general build self-esteem and confidence.”
Roebuck also stressed to students the importance of staying in school and becoming versed in many different subjects in order to portray a believable character on stage.
“If you are playing a mathematician and you don’t know what you’re talking about then the audience won’t believe you as a character,” Roebuck told students. “All subjects are important. Everything I learned in school, I still use in acting today.”
During the acting exercises, students learned the importance of teamwork and that it takes a group of different people working together to make the show run.
Noah C. said he learned that acting isn’t just about using one’s voice and looks, but about using one’s imagination.
Kaiden C. previously acted in two productions when he was in the third grade, ‘‘Trial of Big Bad Wolf’’ and ‘‘A Christmas Story.’’
“You have to get to know your characters to play,” he said. “Today I learned that acting isn’t just about your face, it’s about your entire body.”
Kaiden said he plans to act in his free time.
Although she’s never acted before, Lilly S. said she’s thought about becoming an actor.
“It’s really fun,” she said. “But you still have to concentrate on stage. You also have to know the things you learn about in school to act. If you can talk in front of a bunch of people you don’t know, you can talk in front of people you do know.”
Later that afternoon, fifth-and-sixth-graders saw the play ‘‘Mississippi Talking.’’
“The play consists of a set of scenes from ten Mississippi writers, including Eudora Welty, William Faulkner, John Grisham, Beth Henley, Richard Wright, Willie Morris, Margaret Walker Alexander, Natasha Tretheway, Shelby Foote and Tennesse Williams,” Roebuck said. “This production is a compilation between myself and New Stage Theatre artistic director Francine Reynolds. It’s important for kids in Mississippi to understand they need to be proud of the state’s rich, cultural and literary heritage.”
After the play, many students asked pertinent questions relating to the stories’ plots and authors.
Cailey D. said she would like to read the full stories to find out what happens to the characters she saw portrayed on stage Friday.
“I learned that Mississippi has a good education system since all these good writers came from Mississippi,” she said. “My teacher has mentioned Faulkner to me, but some of the others I hadn’t heard about before. It’s really great to know that a lot of great authors are from here. Writing is my backup career, in case I don’t become an artist.”
Jaylen M. said the play showed him a glimpse of his home state.
“It made me feel special to know that I’m from Mississippi and so are these authors,” he said.

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