Testimonial #10: Holly Stanford, Theater Education Practitioner

How has your life been indelibly touched by a teacher who utilized the arts for whatever reason and acknowledge how they were instrumental in breaking the mold to allow you to become who you are today?

I was greatly influenced by an English teacher in my high school. She took on the school drama club andinvested 100% of herself into the process, allowing herself to make discoveries along with us, and treating theatre as a mechanism for not only learning, but for us to discover confidence and self-worth.

Before I became involved in the arts, I was a shell of myself- introverted andlacking confidence emotionally and socially. This teacher witnessed my demeanorchange as I threw myself into the roles I played and encouraged me to stay withthe arts- that I “could be a pro”. Now, although I have not become afully-fledged professional in theatre, her vote of confidence in my abilitiesdrove me to study the art intensively in college and then in graduate schoolwhere I trained to teach students, and to encourage them the same way I had.

It only took one teacher’s use of the arts to change the entire trajectory ofmy life, and I am so glad she did. I have met so many more amazing teachers andprofessors of theatre since then, and have learned more from my involvement inthe arts than in any other school of thought.

How are the artsre-igniting your community and sparking innovation and creativity in your localschools?

When I came home on a summerbreak from graduate school in New York City I worked tirelessly to give high school studentsacross the region the same option that younger students had. It was unfortunatethat at 14 or 15, you aged out of the arts- I remember feeling so sad after myfinal year of the children’s theatre group. After developing a pilot programover a few months prior to summer 2011, and working alongside a localprevention agency known as Mountain View Prevention Service, Inc., we had aplan, the funding and a cast of students from seven area high schools.

Every part of this summer production was like magic- the students were excited,hard working and wonderful, and the great network of local organizations thatprovided both financial and moral support was heart-warming. I am so glad thatthere has been a growing appreciation for the arts in our community since thissummer. Students who lacked confidence in their own school productions wereable to shine for the first time. I recently revisited one of the participatingschools and many of the students who had participated in the summer programwere up on stage again! It’s amazing to witness their growing confidence andthe willingness of educators in the school to support the arts, and the desiresof students to be involved in theatre.

I do hope that the high school program pilot I worked to create will be offeredagain for future seasons. The program is wonderful for students, especiallyteenagers to have a positive and constructive activity to commit to whileschool is out of session. It is also my desire for area schools to consider thevalue of theatre alongside other art forms in their school budget- if moreschools could offer not only plays, but holistic theatre education for students;I feel that it could only further enhance the student experience both sociallyand academically. Theatre teaches valuable and realistic lessons incommunication, dealing with various types of personalities, working on abudget, how to lead and follow in group situations, learning how to deal withthe hand you were dealt, and good old fashioned hard work and how it willeventually lead to something great.

With an ever changing society, isn’t it important for us to instill these veryimportant lessons into our youth? Theatre is so much more than anextra-curricular activity. I would not be the same without it, and the teens inour community are begging for the chance to be a part of something so muchgreater than test scores and the occasional school play.

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