The end of the 2018 Spring semester marked a milestone for drama programs in the Rolla Public School District, as drama instructors from multiple grade levels came together to create a district-wide production.
While the instructors previously held integrated workshops and small shows, their 2018 production of The Wizard of Oz was the first time their students had the opportunity to work together on a full fledged show, a feat the instructors hope will grow the district’s theatre program as a whole, as well as benefit the students who take part as they learn from one another.
“When we sat down and said this was something we want to do, it was because we wanted to see that collaboration between the kids….so that they could learn from each other,” said Kelli McNeven, RHS theatre instructor.
McNeven, along with Middle School director Laura Stites and Junior High director Lesley Wallace, said the integrated program created opportunities for younger students to learn from more experienced students, as well as for the older students to act as role models.
All together, The Wizard of Oz featured the work of approximately 60 students, with a cast of 35 and the rest working on costuming, set design and the other technical aspects of theatre.
“Even the ones who didn’t want to be onstage wanted to be involved,” said Wallace. Stites echoed the statement, saying it allowed her students to feel like they were working on a “real” production.
The instructors said the integrated show was well received not only by the students involved, but by the students’ parents as well, specifically the younger ones. Wallace said she believed the show met their expectations of the quality their students could produce, as well as the directors’ vision they’d had from the beginning.
“They’re excited that there is an opportunity for their child, who maybe is more artistic and is not as athletic, or that there’s an opportunity for their child to do something they already love,” said Stites. “They feel like there’s a solid program being built for their younger kids.
The building of this program, and the encouragement of it’s students, is the motivation behind bringing students of different age groups together, and why another integrated district production is already on the schedule for April of next year.
“We’re starting them now,” said Stites, referring to the younger students in her program, as well as Wallace’s. “Not all of them are going to stay, and of course we’re going to pull people in…but keeping kids and investing in what we’re going to have in Kelli’s high school program…that’s going to make things stronger,” she said.
McNeven added that sometimes, there is a stigma attached to the concept of high school theatre, and oftentimes community members don’t think of them as being of the same quality as other organizations. With the Rolla Public School theatre programs working together to build a stronger future, McNeven and the others hope to combat this stigma.
“The quality is there, the talent is there,” she said.
Part of combating that stigma comes with the hope of eventually moving into a facility that will fit the growing theatre programs. Currently, the theatre programs operating out of the same auditorium which they are steadily outgrowing, and the need for a new facility has been identified.
“The district is on board; they want it to happen” said McNeven. “ What I think a lot of it comes down to is having the community’s support behind it. We want to build community awareness that there is a need for this space.”
Stites added they wish to take their sizable program and move it into a facility that can do all of the things a strong theatre program requires, with adequate spacing being only one of their concerns. Upgrading to a new facility would also give a stronger fighting chance to the students who wish pursue theatre after high school.
“They have the talent to be competitive, but do they have the knowledge of the other things we can’t give them?” asked Stites.
Even though the possibility of a new facility lies further in the future, the community can still see the excellent work being produced by each of the theatre programs in the Rolla School District, both individually and together.