The Open Stage program has been serving local communities for more than a decade. Over the years, the program has provided high-quality theatre classes to young people ages 9–13 at Strathcona Community Centre and Queen Alexandra Elementary in Vancouver.
Instructors Roselle Healy and Susanne Moniz de Sá have both taught at Strathcona Community Centre for more than 10 years. Family members and friends found seats in one of the multi-purpose rooms at Strathcona Community Centre on a sunny afternoon in May, and we sat down to a show. But before show time, Roselle and Susanne shared a few words of wisdom—a reminder that show day is not the most important day of the program, but just one of many important activities the students do over the 30 weeks they meet. The show is their opportunity to share.
The play they performed that day was an energetic blend of a Mother Goose tale and a talent show. The kids did a stand-up job of memorizing their lines, developing their characters, and projecting their voices.
After the show, we talked to Roselle to find out a bit more about the program, what participants can expect throughout the 30 weeks, and what kids get out of this substantial free community program.
At the beginning of the program, Roselle and Susanne focus on activities that build students’ confidence and trust. “We want kids to feel part of a team and feel safe to take risks and make art together,” says Roselle.
Classes often start with a group check-in: question of the day; pick one word to describe how you feel; what does acting mean to you? These group conversations help build trust and listening skills, reminding the students that there are no wrong answers. Then, students do a physical, mental, and vocal warm-up. “Warmups help wake up the imagination and get students pumped for class,” says Roselle. “We remind students to go with their first ideas, trust their own voices, and have fun.” As the program continues throughout the year, the instructors layer in more technical warmups, such as vocal and character work.
Beyond warmups, each class has a main activity. This could be improvisation, mask work, clowning, script development, scene work, or puppetry. Always fun, these theatre exercises have a variety of positive outcomes: Youth explore their creative potential, develop a lifelong love for the arts, and grow their enthusiasm for learning. Students also learn valuable life skills like how to work in a team, social skills, self-confidence, and how to communicate with others. For every exercise, the instructors ensure the room is a safe place in which the students can comfortably reflect on their work and learn from others.
“It is always so amazing to watch the growth throughout the year,” says Roselle. “Students that start the year with a quiet voice often end up being the loudest on stage! And the joy at the end of the show is always such a treat for us to see. We aim to not focus only on performance and more on the journey as a young artist. It is a wonderful program and a treat to be a part of.”
Arts Umbrella opens doors for all young people so they can grow their confidence and creativity. Our free Community Programs harness the same magic and expertise as our tuition-based classes, and bring the Arts Umbrella experience to the children and communities in Metro Vancouver who would most benefit from them.
For many vulnerable youth, our classes are a supportive outlet to explore the limitlessness of creativity. Time and again, studies show that arts education matters and that it provides the building blocks for life: critical-thinking skills, improved self-esteem, and tools for collaboration.
Our classes, workshops, and performances remove the geographic, cultural, social, and financial barriers that can prevent young people from accessing the arts. We partner with neighbourhood houses, schools, healthcare facilities, and community centres to focus on areas that demonstrate high vulnerability.
Your support in expanding this mission is profoundly welcome. For more information about Arts Umbrella’s free Community Programs, or to provide ideas about community collaboration, contact firstname.lastname@example.org.