Delta Theater Opportunities: Get Kids on Stage for Performing Arts Fun
By Tracy D. DeStazio
Being in a play can be a wonderful experience, especially for a shy nine-year-old or a somewhat awkward teenager. For young people in the Mississippi Delta, there are opportunities to “blossom” and discover expressive outlets through the performing arts. Many life lessons are also learned through the process of bringing a script to life on stage with a group of fellow actors.
Tim Bixler, executive director of Delta Center Stage in Greenville, sees community theater as a chance for young people to gain social skills.
“The self-confidence that so many young people develop is often life-changing,” Bixler said. “Discovering their own talents, then receiving the affirmation of audience response, is a huge confidence builder.”
The performing arts are also important for young people because they provide a way through which youth are “stretched and challenged in unconventional ways,” Steve Iwanski, program director for the Greenwood Shakespeare Project, said.
“Kids need a space to experiment, struggle, triumph and play,” Iwanski said. After all, he added, “they’re called ‘plays’ for a reason!”
Iwanski explained there are several valuable life lessons young people gain from community theater experiences, including cooperation and trust.
“Bonds of friendship are formed,” he said, “but they also have to overcome disagreements, obstacles, setbacks and fatigue.”
At the end of their summer program, youth who participate in the Greenwood Shakespeare Project perform on stage for several audiences over multiple days.
“At that point,” Iwanski continued, “you can’t do anything but rely on your fellow actors to help you make it happen.”
For teens, especially, this is a lesson they can keep forever.
“You can achieve miracles when you put aside differences and commit to a [common] goal,” Iwanski said.
Even if your child at home is a quiet, timid wallflower, Bixler is confident most kids will make considerable progress in ability to be creatively expressive in front of others.
“It is common for those who are outwardly shy to ‘hang back’ for a while, to watch and observe,” he explained, “but they almost all are watching, observing, and learning from others.” They often just need that “last little nudge” that getting up on stage provides.
For adults involved with community theater, “Our lives are filled with the blessing of experiencing this ‘flowering’ time after time,” Bixler said.
It happens differently for each child, but it almost invariably does happen, according to Bixler. “And the difference [seen in the child] is profoundly apparent.”
Children’s Community Theater Opportunities in the Delta:
Bologna Performing Arts Center at Delta State University, Cleveland: (662)846-4625
The School-Time Matinee Series provides performing arts for students in grades K through 12. This program teaches students about the content of the performance and theater procedure.
Delta Arts Alliance, Cleveland: (662)588-3342 or (662)843-3344
This organization provides arts education in the public schools, art and dance camps, after-school programs, and summer workshops.
Delta Center Stage, Greenville: (662)378-9849 or (662)820-5489
Provides programs for ages five and older, including production of an Annual Summer Youth Musical with a cast of more than 50 kids. It also reaches out to local school systems to make special age-appropriate performances available during school hours.
Greenville Arts Council (GAC), Greenville/Washington County: (662)332-2246
This partnership includes the Greenville Arts Council, the Washington County Public School Districts, the Delta Symphony Association, Delta Center Stage, and the Delta Children’s Museum. The GAC offers classes for students in various art forms, including a Teen Actors Studio. It also brings in outside theater companies for age-appropriate performances at local venues such as the E.E. Bass Cultural Arts Center in Greenville.
Greenwood Little Theatre, Greenwood: (662)455-2864 or (662)947-1075
The Greenwood Shakespeare Project partners with ArtPlace Mississippi and the Greenwood Little Theatre to present an annual Shakespeare Summer Camp for youth, ending with an August performance.
Mid-Delta Arts Association, Indianola: (662)887-4522 or (662)887-2175
Provides opportunities for children ages nine and older to participate in various programs and plays, most recently performed at the Brindley Theater in Indianola.
Mississippi Delta Tennessee Williams Festival, sponsored by Coahoma Community College, among others; Clarksdale: (662)624-5648 or (662)627-2571
This annual event includes a Student Drama Competition for high school students who vie for trophies and cash prizes for their school drama departments. It is judged by theater professionals who also direct acting workshops.
Vicksburg Theatre Guild, Fairy Tale Theatre, Parkside Playhouse, Vicksburg: (601)636-0471
Children can participate in main stage productions with the Vicksburg Theatre Guild all year, as most plays have parts for youth. The annual summer youth Fairy Tale Theatre is also open to kids ages seven and older.
Yazoo Arts Council, Yazoo City: (662)746-7776
The council provides arts and cultural experiences for children by bringing in outside theater groups to perform at venues such as the Yazoo Community Complex.
Tracy D. DeStazio is a freelance writer and editor living in Biloxi. She has been married to her high school sweetheart for 23 years and they have three children, one of whom loves being a member of her high school drama guild.