Youth Performing Arts Series: Debunking the “Theatre Kid” Stereotype

By: Kessler (11th grader) & Anna (10th grader) from Empowered Players (EP) and members of EP’s Teen Arts Board (TAB).

This blog post is the second of four in a Youth Performing Arts Series by teens involved in the performing arts. For more posts, please visit our blog.

Highlights:

  • Empowered Players (EP) is a Fluvanna-based non-profit in VA designed to make a difference in the community through the arts. Their mission is to uplift the human spirit through access to quality arts experiences, youth empowerment, and community service through free & accessible K-12 theatre education and programming.
  • In this Youth Performing Arts Series, youth involved with EP will share more about their experiences and perspectives engaging in the performing arts.
  • In this second of four blog posts, Kessler and Anna debunk a few theatre myths and stereotypes that haunt the industry.
Source: Empowered Players Teen Arts Board

There are a lot of stereotypes about theatre kids. Some say we’re anti-social coffee addicts who can’t go anywhere or do anything because “we have rehearsal.” Some say we’re Hamilton obsessed geeks who speak only in showtunes and Shakespeare. Although they might have a point, theatre is much more than the stereotypes.

Theatre, especially Empowered Players, helps budding actors and actresses in many ways. It can improve public speaking ability, increase creative thinking skills, and includes people from many different backgrounds and walks of life through the diverse roles available. And while some theatre stereotypes are true (yes, we are that loud; yes, some of us are that obsessed with Hamilton or Dear Evan Hansen), many are not. This blog debunks a few myths that have permeated the industry for years, especially for youth.

Mythbusting the “Theatre Kid”

To begin with, many people are afraid of theatre because of how it is portrayed in the media. Television and movie producers love to show theatre as something that is filled with gossip and drama, or mean girls and nerds. This does not give theatre a chance! It is an unique art that allows actors to become different people for a few hours a week while boosting beneficial skills such as confidence and public speaking. The myriad perks of theatre are overshadowed by the harmful stereotypes that continue to circulate both within and outside the community. Let’s lay these myths to rest and prove that theatre is truly for everyone!

Debunk: “I can’t, I have rehearsal”

One of the major drawbacks that can dissuade students from entering theatre is the heavy time commitment. Almost everyone has seen or heard the theatre kid meme: “I can’t, I have rehearsal.” And while this can be true (and we have used it to get out of things that we don’t really want to go to), the commitment is no worse than a regular sport. Rehearsals are after school or on the weekends, but many directors are flexible and willing to work with students and their schedules. Since some troupes rehearse on the weekends, afternoons are open for other activities. For example, Anna is in the marching band, which means that she doesn’t have time after school for rehearsals. Since Empowered Players meets on the weekends, she can do both band and theatre. Kessler competes in Forensics through the school, and the weekend rehearsals mean that she has time for homework after school and practice. This is a common occurrence. Many people balance both theatre and other extracurricular activities!

Debunk: “I can only do theatre through my school”

Popular media likes to portray that theatre can only be done through a school (High School Musical, anyone?). While school theatre is definitely an option, it is not the only option. There are many external troupes and programs that allow students to act outside of school hours. These troupes are important because it allows students who don’t go to a traditional school, such as homeschoolers, to experience theatre. There are many community theatre programs that are open to everyone, which opens up theatre opportunities to those who can’ do traditional theatre.

Outside opportunities are also important for those who aren’t comfortable doing theatre through school. Sometimes people have bad experiences with school theatre and are not comfortable going back to school. Community theatre opportunities reopens the door of theatre to those who thought it closed.

Debunk: “I can’t do community theatre because it’s only for adults”

Unfortunately, doing theatre through a community program comes with its own stereotypes. One of the most prominent ideas is that community theatre is only for adults. This is supplemented by many shows that community theatres produce that are not necessarily suitable for teenagers, tweens, or children to act in.

However, many troupes do perform shows that are children-appropriate and sometimes even call for child actors. If someone is interested and there is a community theatre troupe nearby, we suggest reaching out to them and expressing interest. If there is an opening for a child or teen actor, then go ahead and join! If not, then keep reaching out to other troupes and the right one will connect with you! Acting with adults will also increase your skill, since you will be working alongside more experienced actors who can show you some tips and tricks of the trade.

Debunk: “Everyone in theatre already has friends. I won’t be welcome”

The deterrent to many teens in joining new activities is the fear of a clique within that activity that will not accept them. Theatre is infamous for cliquey groups that exclude newcomers, but this is simply not true in most cases. Theatre troupes are welcoming of new actors, especially because more actors means a larger cast. A larger cast means a more in depth and overall fun play. In addition, the people within the groups remember how it felt to be a newcomer to the scene, and as such are welcoming. Theatre, as an art, also attracts kind and accepting people.

Debunk: “Everyone in theatre is dramatic” or “Rehearsals are full of drama”

The final myth that we plan to debunk centers on another name for theatre. Many people call theatre “drama” and this can lead many to believe that actors are backstabbing hooligans, constantly on the lookout for new drama. This is just not correct! Rehearsals are calm places, devoted to the play. While some actors do participate in “backstage drama,” as it is coined, most just want to have a fun show.

Theatre kids also receive an unjust reputation for being “over dramatic.” Seeing as how these people are actors, a certain amount of this is to be expected, but not to the degree that is shown in mass media. The over dramatism is mainly just employed in jokes, and actors know when too much is too much.

Theatre Stereotypes Debunked

Although there are many more myths and stereotypes than what is covered in this blog, we have debunked a few of (what we thought were) the most famous ones that keep youth from entering theatre. An important element to remember is that theatre is not what the media paints it as, and many people from all walks of life enjoy theatre in many different ways. And if acting isn’t something that interests you, that’s okay! Theatre encompasses everything from acting to directing to the technical crew working behind the scenes. All parts are necessary to ensure a successful show. So try out for that musical! Join that community theatre troupe! Take that directing class! Even if theatre is not for you, you will have gained new skills that will benefit you in unexpected but amazing ways.


The posts in the Youth Nex Youth Performing Arts Series are submitted by teens who are a part of the Empowered Players Teen Arts Board (TAB). The TAB is designed to create a space for teens to shape the arts landscape of Fluvanna County, VA, volunteer in their community, and co-create arts programming for EP. Each blog will feature topics selected by TAB members, and is designed to uplift their thoughts around the importance of the performing arts.

If you have any comments or questions about this post, please email Youth-Nex@virginia.edu. Please visit the Youth-Nex Homepage for up to date information about the work happening at the center.

Author Bio: Kessler is a junior in Fluvanna County High School. She competes in Forensics through FCHS and participates in the spring shows performed by the high school. She has been involved with Empowered Players for over six years and has worked on many aspects of the theatre experience, from acting in both ensemble and starring roles, to tech, to management and directing. enjoys both acting and directing. This spring, she is excited to star in Peter and the Starcatcher as Molly Aster. This is her first time writing for a UVA blog.


Author Bio: Anna is a sophomore at Fluvanna County High School and has been involved with theatre since the summer before 4th grade. She did the initial Empowered Players summer camp, and has been involved with the program since. She has been in numerous shows, as well as camps, and has learned theatre management, directing, script writing and playwriting through those camps. She has just wrapped up her latest show, in which she played Alice in the Addams Family Musical. She also did her first mentoring volunteer work with Empowered Players in the Rudolph Musical this past semester.

Youth Performing Arts Series: How Empowered Players Has Helped Me

By: Gloria & Ash, 9th graders from Empowered Players (EP) and members of EP’s Teen Arts Board (TAB).

This blog post is the first of four in a Youth Performing Arts Series by teens involved in the performing arts. For more posts, please visit our blog.

Ash & Gloria also took over the Youth-Nex & Empowered Players Instagram accounts to talk more about this blog and their experiences!

Highlights:

  • Empowered Players (EP) is a Fluvanna-based non-profit in VA designed to make a difference in the community through the arts. Their mission is to uplift the human spirit through access to quality arts experiences, youth empowerment, and community service through free & accessible K-12 theater education and programming.
  • In this Youth Performing Arts Series, youth involved with EP will share more about their experiences and perspectives engaging in the performing arts.
  • In this first of four blog posts, these youth share more about how acting helped them build skills and confidence for the future.
Source: Empowered Players Teen Arts Board

Hi, we’re Gloria and Ash! We are both in 9th grade and have some things in common. For example, we both like to act, to read, to dance, and to do some art. We want to talk about how being involved in Empowered Players has helped us in everyday life and with our acting. In particular, theater has helped us with public speaking, expressing ourselves, confidence, and creativity.

Improving Public Speaking

Empowered Players has helped me (Ash) with many things in my everyday life. One way it’s helped me is in public speaking. When in a play, you always know what to say and when it’s the appropriate time to say it. For example, I was in a play, The Jungle Book. Being in this play showed me the appropriate responses to things that would need to be said when speaking anywhere. For example, when talking to an adult, I am able to think of a response sooner and sound like I know how to talk to an adult. With that, I am now able to plan what I want to say anywhere, and have the ability to improv if I don’t already have a response to something when I need it. It also helps by already being on stage with a bunch of people that you may or may not know.

Expressing Ourselves

Empowered Players has also helped me (Ash) with expressing myself. Performing in a play helps show different emotions and different personalities, and this can help with expressing who you are in everyday life. For example, you could also express yourself in the play and show who you are in the play.

More Creativity

Empowered Players has also helped me (Gloria) with my creativity.

It has helped me because when we are playing improv games, I have to think of something to say quickly and it also has to be creative. My creativity has improved; and I have noticed that when I’m working on little crafts at home, it is easier for me to think of what to make.

Boosting Confidence

Empowered Players has helped me (Gloria) with my confidence, because when I’m in an Empowered Players group, I can be myself. I also learned that people don’t care what you look like or do, and that has really helped with my everyday life. Throughout the year my confidence has gone up. For example, I can make friends easier now, and it is easier for me to talk to people that I don’t really know. I have also noticed that I have become more confident in speaking in class in front of classmates and teachers, and that I can express my thoughts and opinions more freely and without worrying too much about what they think. When I looked at the Halloween costume contest video we recorded with the Teen Arts Board, where I was one of the presenters, I can really tell that I am more comfortable in front of a camera now.


The posts in the Youth Nex Youth Performing Arts Series are submitted by teens who are a part of the Empowered Players Teen Arts Board (TAB). The TAB is designed to create a space for teens to shape the arts landscape of Fluvanna County, VA, volunteer in their community, and co-create arts programming for EP. Each blog will feature topics selected by TAB members, and is designed to uplift their thoughts around the importance of the performing arts.

If you have any comments or questions about this post, please email Youth-Nex@virginia.edu. Please visit the Youth-Nex Homepage for up to date information about the work happening at the center.

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Author Bio: Hello! I am Ash! I am 15 years old and in 9th grade. I was born in North Carolina and lived there for 13-ish years. Now I live in Virginia.


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Author Bio: Hi! My name is Gloria! I am 14 years old and I was also born in North Carolina. I go to Fluvanna County High School.


Re-Engaging Youth in Out-of-School Spaces

By: Ashlee Sjogren

Highlights:

  • Engaging students in out-of-school spaces is critical to supporting the whole student. Peers, families, program content, and a fun environment all serve as sources of engagement that programs can optimize on.
  • However, both interpersonal tensions and repetition of content can be reasons that middle school students decide not to engage in afterschool programs.
  • In this blog, we provide recommendations for afterschool stakeholders as they consider how to encourage youth engagement.
Source: Youth-Nex

The role of afterschool and summer learning spaces is perhaps even more critical in our mid-/post-pandemic world than ever before. With the rise of online learning, social isolation, and student mental health issues,[i] afterschool spaces serve as a needed additional support to students’ achievement and development.[ii] However, as we re-embark on in-person learning environments, one question stands out: How do we re-engage students, particularly middle school students from historically marginalized communities[iii], in productive afterschool programs?

Sources

In a recent report of middle school students’ engagement in afterschool programs, students identified three key sources and two key barriers to engagement[iv]:

  1. Program Content – Variety in program content is initially appealing for students who are interested in trying new activities that are not traditionally offered in schools. While some students feel that their afterschool program “is fun because you have activities you would be interested in that you can do, like gym kind of things;” others focus on how afterschool programs expose them to new activities, skills, and classes that they wouldn’t ordinarily get to explore. In this way, afterschool programs can provide space for students to explore new interests, gain new skills, and continue to invest in their personal identity development.
  2. Friends & Family — Personal relationships with peers and family also serve as an additional source of engagement for many students. While many elementary-aged students engage in afterschool spaces because their parents sign them up, middle school students tend to “vote with their feet.” In this way, some may choose to engage based off of parental encouragement whereas others are highly influenced by their peers’ engagement decisions.
  3. Fun Environment – Finally, afterschool spaces are different from school. There are fewer rules, more opportunities for student choice, and ultimately often more fun than a traditional school-day environment. This is critical for many adolescents who are seeking autonomy in their decision-making and opportunities to spend time with peers. If we are seeking to promote afterschool engagement for our middle school students, we must be meeting them with fun environments comprised of various activity options, freedom to select their activities, and opportunities to learn new skills and meet new people.

Barriers

Even in the presence of a well-designed and thoughtful afterschool program, there is still the risk of creating unintentional barriers to adolescent engagement. For example, the following two barriers rose to the surface:

  1. Repetition of Content—Although program content is initially appealing to many middle school students, it can run the risk of developing into a barrier if not adequately differentiated. Students voice that afterschool programs are boring when “we just keep doing the same thing.” Thus, we must not only diversify our course offerings in afterschool spaces but also think critically about keeping the day-to-day content and activities fresh for students.
  2. Interpersonal Tensions – Lastly, given the prominence and importance of peers during early adolescence, it is important that educators are keenly aware of peer relationships. Although the afterschool space provides a unique opportunity for continued engagement amongst peers, it is not immune to the school-day tensions such as name-calling, nagging, and other forms of bullying.  These interpersonal tensions can unintentionally push students out of the afterschool space.

Further, it is important to note students’ experiences with these sources and barriers of engagement varied based on their reported level of engagement.

For example, students who reported lower levels of engagement more often reported interpersonal tensions as a barrier, highlighting how they may be the group most at risk for alienation in educational contexts.

Given this, educators should think critically about the impact of barriers on students who may appear to be on the margins of the program such as those with sporadic attendance.

Moving forward, afterschool educators, parents, and teens can adopt the following suggestions to promote youth engagement across formal and informal learning contexts.

  1. Ramp up family outreach/engagement efforts to ensure families are adequately informed of program offerings.
  2. Provide tangible spaces for student feedback to be voiced, considered, and implemented in day-to-day programming decisions.
  3. Develop leadership opportunities for students such as 1) serving as peer recruiters; 2) serving on a student leadership council; 3) mentoring younger students; and 4) serving as a Teaching Assistant in a course they have mastered.
  4. Adopt a culturally sustaining discipline approach that seeks to solve the root of interpersonal tensions (i.e., CRPBIS, Restorative Practices).
  5. Adopt leveled approaches to programming which allow youth to continually refine their skills over time.
  6. Provide various class opportunities (through community partnerships) and hold program providers accountable to fresh and engaging lesson plans.

Strategies of this sort address adolescents’ need for autonomy and belonging, and further foster their identity exploration. In doing so, they foster spaces that middle school students genuinely desire to engage and promote continued participation.


References

[i] CDC, 2020

[ii] Durlak et al., 2020

[iii] Afterschool Alliance, 2020

[iv] Sjogren et al., 2021


If you have any comments or questions about this post, please email Youth-Nex@virginia.edu. Please visit the Youth-Nex Homepage for up to date information about the work happening at the center.

Author Bio: Ashlee Sjogren, Ph.D. is a post-doctoral research associate at Youth-Nex: Center to Promote Effective Youth Development, University of Virginia. Her research is broadly focused on equitable education both in- and out-of-school. Most recently, Dr. Sjogren has investigated student access and engagement in out-of-school contexts. As an educational psychologist, Dr. Sjogren often brings both a social context and motivation lens to understanding questions of equity, access, and motivation.