‘Theatre breeds kindness and empathy’

w2015-theaterTen-year-old Lauren Jane Hudson reflected on her tentative entry into classes at OYP Theatre School five years ago.

“On the first day when I walked in, I was very shy and I didn’t really interact with anybody,” said Hudson. “Then I found a friend and I was able to expand and gain confidence…and I still act with that same friend today.”

At the time of the interview, the upbeat Grade 5 student was busy with rehearsals for OYP Theatre’s rendition of The Nutcracker in late November, her early shyness long forgotten. She played the role of Marie, one of the main characters in the much-loved Christmas classic.

“I like that I get to make the character my own – it’s cool to be able to play a different character in different plays,” said Hudson, who added she was excited to wear a beautiful nightgown with lace and ribbons as one of her costumes.

For Kathi Langston, the artistic director at OYP, watching a child’s confidence level grow through theatre classes is a thrill that never grows old.

“Their confidence level is so beautiful to see – seeing them happy in their own skin,” said Langston, who has worked with OYP for 13 years. “Theatre breeds kindness and empathy – because without those qualities you’re not going to be a very good actor; it encourages the shy person to take chances.”

Celebrating 25 years as an organization, the OYP Theatre School became a resident arts partner in the Shenkman Arts Centre in 2009.

Considered a creative hub, where artists and audiences meet to create and explore the arts, the Shenkman Arts Centre is located in the east Ottawa community of Orléans.

“We went from having one studio – in a shared space with a daycare centre – to having two gorgeous, state-of-the-art studios that also double as performance space for smaller shows,” said Langston.

Today, the OYP Theatre School offers over 30 different classes and summer programming in English and French. Classes range from the increasingly-popular musical theatre to specialty classes such as improv, on-camera, fundamentals and even radio play, which gives kids the chance to work with sound effects in a radio studio.

And at the Ottawa Little Theatre – located in the heart of downtown – staff are already gearing up for March Break drama camp. The theatre offers a full-day, week-long camp for kids aged nine to 12, with an option for parents needing after-hours care.

March Break drama camp offers kids a chance to produce a play from start to finish, which includes writing, directing, making props and even choreographing their own production.

Evan Clark, director of marketing and communications for Ottawa Little Theatre, said drama camp really gives kids the chance to unleash their imaginations.

“If it’s even a notion in their minds, this is a place with a large number of resources,” said Clark, noting their building is home to a 462-seat theatre.

Clark said drama helps to build self-esteem and self-awareness in kids, which translates into real-life skills such as public speaking in adulthood. It can also be a great way to improve language skills for kids who are learning English as a second language, he added.

“We see lots of kids who come from an ESL kind of background – it’s great to see their confidence grow from the beginning to the end of the week in drama camp.

“Drama provides the opportunity for kids to use language in a creative way; there’s no rigidity.”

Most of all, it’s a place where kids can express themselves in a supportive space.

“Theatre classes offer a really open environment,” said Clark. “When the kids are brainstorming ideas, things can get really loud and silly and fun – but what they end up with at the end of a camp is always neat to see.

“It really does make a difference to the richness of a child’s life.”