Every Child Needs This: Learning Bravery with Compass Creative Dramatics

By Cathlyn Melvin, Development Director Compass Creative Dramatics

My summer vacations as a kid were a whirlwind of gymnastics practice, camping across mosquito-infested Wisconsin, and terrifying just-after-dark sessions of “Ghost in the Graveyard” with the twin boys who lived across the street. My favorite part of summer, though, was the time I spent at a children’s theatre in town. They did a project each August that I always looked forward to; there were no costumes, no sets, just the story and the actors. It made us all look forward to the school year, when the company would produce shows with detailed costumes and colorful sets.

I moved away after high school to study theatre at a university about two hours from my hometown. After graduation, I worked with theatre companies in the Milwaukee area, and then was offered a short contract with a children’s theatre company in Minnesota. I spent several weeks working with kids in rural Minnesota, and was reminded how much I loved children’s theatre when I was a teenager – and how much I still love it now.

Which is why I am so excited to be bringing the company I started last May, Compass Creative Dramatics, to my hometown of Sheboygan, WI this summer. We’re based out of Chicago, but we’re a traveling company that specializes in bringing theatre to your community (and in this case, to my own!). Organizations like schools, after-school centers, churches, or other groups, bring us in to work with their kids for a week, and it’s amazing to see the transformation of students from the first day to the last.

Last fall, we worked with a group of students in Evanston, Illinois. The first day, one of our students, Ella, she stood in the circle with the rest of the kids, but wouldn’t participate. When we asked her to repeat a few words after us, she just shook her head and looked at the floor.

By the end of the week, Ella was a leader in the cast. She knew all of her lyrics and dances, and she spoke her lines big and loud and with a grin on her face. This sort of transformation isn’t uncommon with this programming, and it’s partially possible because our structure includes two adult actors who perform alongside the students, offering support, and helping them shine. If a student forgets a line, we’re there to help them out. If they get a sudden attack of nerves, we’re next to them to calm their anxiety and lead the way.

In Sheboygan in June, my colleague Cassandra and I will work with up to 75 kids, meeting them on Monday, rehearsing with them throughout the week, and readying them for performance on Saturday. It’s an exercise in creativity and in bravery, and our students will walk away with a little more courage, a little more trust, and a sense of responsibility and teamwork. They’ll walk away with the magic of live performance, and I hope that never leaves them.

We’ll work with kids – in Sheboygan, in Chicago, in Indiana, and elsewhere – who, like Ella, need extra support to really come into their own. We’ll work with kids who haven’t learned to read, or who freeze at the thought of singing in front of an audience.

It’s experiences like this that confirm for me that theatre is a vital part of education. The poise, confidence, and bravery that come from participation in theatre are skills that every child needs to experience. Through Compass Creative Dramatics, we’re hoping to give kids that important opportunity – one community at a time.

Compass Creative Dramatics partners with school and community organizations to offer quirky, engaging theatre programming designed to provide arts enrichment and cultivate personal growth and character. We strive to provide these organizations an opportunity to enhance their current theatre education and life skills training as well as provide arts programming within schools and organizations with limited arts resources.

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