Laughter filled the theatre as children dressed in an array of costumes acted out character traits.
“How would a viking walk?” Marti Byers, executive director of Applegate Regional Theatre, asked an elementary school girl with a viking helmet. The girl stuck her chest out and strode confidently across the stage, eliciting laughs from her peers in the audience.
On March 20th and 22nd, around 500 elementary school children from Veneta and Elmira Elementary circled through Applegate Regional Theatre on Central road. Students were given a tour of the facility and a demonstration on getting into character through a costume or prop.
“The kids are delightful,” Byers said. “They showed interest and enthusiasm. I can’t say how many kids came up to me saying they wanted to take a class or learn theatre makeup, make costumes and sets. It was a lovely, lovely day.”
Veneta Elementary toured Tuesday with students from first through fifth grade. Elmira Elementary toured Thursday with students from kindergarten to fifth grade. There were around 60 students in each group and the sessions lasted an hour.
“We had tried for a couple years offering classes, and people kept saying, ‘We wish we knew about these classes, but we didn’t,’” Byers said. “Communication in our community is a real problem. People just don’t keep up with what’s going on.”
The field trip came together because Byers wanted to increase children’s involvement in the theatre. She spoke with EES Principal Michelle Marshall and VES Principal Lisa Leatham about possible collaboration, and both schools were interested.
“(ART) has the possibility of being such an amazing asset for our students and community,” Marshall said.
Leatham said that many of her kids said how excited they were about trying out for a future play.
“That was the goal,” she said.
Byers said that ART is a resource for the community. They have over 100 wedding dresses donated from the community and over 400 prom dresses, which are available to community members to borrow. Byers also encouraged students to take advantage of the period clothing for history projects.
ART is located in the formerly known Central School building, and was renovated by volunteers to turn the gym into a theatre. The theatre has also received a $400 anonymous donation from a member of the community, which they used to buy a new light board.
“The kids were impressed that this was done by people who weren’t paid to do it,” Byers said.
With cuts to arts programming in schools, ART is an opportunity to experience the benefits of those programs.
“I think it provides an opportunity for students to participate in a cooperative setting, work through a project to completion, and (have) a creative opportunity that they may not be able to access otherwise,” Marshall said.
Leatham said this gives students who are theatrically inclined a chance to shine and can help fulfill the needs that they can’t receive at the school.
“It’s a way to bring in art without having to have a full time teacher,” she said. “It’s an extension of using community resources as well.”
In the future, Byers wants to offer the same opportunity to the middle and high schools — she said it’s just finding a schedule that works for everyone.
ART also is working with foundations like Ophelia’s Place and Kiwani’s to put together plays that handles the issues of teenage suicide and bullying.
“There are many things a community theatre can do to help the community outside of entertainment,” Byers said. “It starts a discussion and keeps it going.”
Byers said that the skills that students learn in drama, like public speaking, can help them throughout their life, whether in a job interview or committee meeting.
Marshall said she liked having the opportunity to share and expose her students to the arts.
“I would say that the arts are vital to a well-rounded education and that exposure to the arts boosts creativity, bravery, and confidence in trying something new,” she said. “I am thankful that the Fern Ridge School District has been supportive of the Applegate Regional Theatre. I am proud that our small community has worked so hard to create, support, and provide such an amazing opportunity for students and adults in the area.”