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Theatre Arts: Opening Avenues Where Students Discover Skills, Creativity and Fun

Catherine McDougallTheatre Arts teacher Catherine McDougall and students at William Amos Hough High worked for weeks on their production of Seussical the Musical. Based on Dr. Seuss’ imaginative children’s stories, the production took a small army to bring to life, from the actors and musicians out front, to the stage managers, choreographer and costume designers behind the scenes.

“The key as a theater director is to get the right people who can collaborate,” said McDougall, who has taught theater in CMS for more than 20 years. “I think we've got phenomenal theater and arts programs in all of our schools. A lot of that is down to our faculty. Our teachers are amazing in this district, and they work so hard.”

STudent performers wearing hatsCharlotte-Mecklenburg Schools recognizes its arts programs during Arts in Our Schools Month in March. The Theatre Arts program is offered at most CMS high schools and middle schools, as well as at two elementary performing arts magnet programs. Students gain an array of skills, including collaboration, higher-level critical and creative thinking, problem recognition and problem-solving, in addition to various theater techniques.

Seussical the Musical was Hough’s annual spring musical, one of multiple events held each year. There were onstage acting and technical roles, about 40 students working backstage and 28 musicians performing live. In addition to public performances, which help fund theater projects, another performance was added specifically for second-graders from Hough’s feeder schools – Cornelius Elementary, Davidson K-8, J.V. Washam Elementary and Huntersville Elementary. It was their first time doing a show for students, but McDougall said they always like to try something new.

Students in costumes

“We did The Little Mermaid in 2016. Students who graduated last year told me they saw it when they were in elementary school, and it's the thing that made them want to do theater at Hough,” she said. “It made me think that that's how you get students excited about high school, about continuing on in school, feeling connected to the arts at that level and just the magic of seeing students just a little bit older than you doing something and aspiring to that.”

Juniors Gavin Vezendy and Chelsi Taylor are co-head stage managers and have been taking Theatre Arts classes since they were in middle school. While Chelsi enjoys performing, she said stage management allows her to combine valuable skills, such as leadership, communication, troubleshooting and organization, with creative energy to produce something fun.

“You gain so much leadership experience being a stage manager; that's really applicable to any area that I’d want to go into in the future,” Taylor said. “They’re life skills that I think everyone should really have.”

Vezendy started out behind the scenes in sound and lighting. In seventh grade, his teacher steered him to stage management, and he has learned more technical elements along the way.

students on stage“We also have to communicate a lot with adults via email – a lot of teenagers don't necessarily have to do that in their everyday lives,” Gavin said. “That's a valuable lesson to really know how to interact with people in a professional way.”

McDougall said every theater student doesn’t want to be involved in a show, and that’s OK, too. She is proud that at Hough, any student can take a theater class, all the way to the advanced levels, and just be part of the community.

“For a lot of students, it's a stress relief to come to theater. It's fun,” she said. “They get to be with their friends, they get to try out acting, and there are levels of what students can experience here. It’s also such a fun exploration for me to be able to meet students and see something in them that they might not see in themselves yet. Then they get to figure out what skills they have and what things they want to do and how to contribute.”