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We Need Educational Theater!

Dear Readers,

"If you were fortunate to have caught the recent production of Matilda at the Steamboat Springs Middle School, the musical based on the Roald Dahl book of the same name, you got to see not only a great team of middle school-aged performing artists, but also a great piece of live theatre. In a COVID era production of (mostly) masked actors and fully masked audience, these kids found an opportunity to create extraordinary dramatic performances that none of them will ever forget. As is the case with all performing arts events, no two shows were ever the same and there’s no way to recreate the live experiences for the artists or the audience. They exist for a moment in time and space; then they’re gone. And isn’t that exciting and rare? A bit like using an old telephone with a rotary dial and listening to the clicks every time the dial rewinds. In a YouTube world, almost every experience can be broken down into digital bits that are always identical. But live performance is totally ephemeral; it’s HERE in THIS MOMENT and then it’s gone. Theatre is always an event where you had to be there or you never really got the true experience. But what’s the value of this experience for actors or audience members?

What would Steamboat and the Yampa Valley look and – more importantly – live like, if we balanced our investments in arts and recreation? The production of Matilda was a happy coincidence of the Piknik Theatre Educational Outreach Director living in my sister and brother-in-law’s spare bedroom while having a few weeks to spend teaching at the Montessori school, the Yampa Valley High School, and directing middle school music teacher Jim Knapp’s wild vision. Our little planet is facing unthinkable catastrophes from climate change to out-of-control pandemic. It’s going to take imagination and creativity, in balance and harmony with physical well-being, to save humanity. Theatre education teaches compassion and empathy to develop convincing character portrayals. Performing in front of a live audience takes incredible courage and vulnerability. Theatre artists rehearse for hundreds of hours in collaboration with each other, listening and supporting each other’s performances. The imagination required to take words on a page and turn them into actions that evoke a full range of emotions in an audience is extraordinary. There is unbelievable creativity that goes into lighting, costuming, and designing productions. Even finding the funding to underwrite a production takes problem solving skills worthy of a corporate CEO. But at the end of the day, it’s the simple joy on the faces and in the hearts of the middle school students after accomplishing a story well told that makes it all worthwhile. For a brief few weeks, these kids were stars. The confidence and personal strength they created for themselves is unforgettable and worth a lifetime of gold medals."

-Stuart Handloff


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