Letter: Save the Mt. Hope High School theatre program

Posted 5/8/21

To the editor:

I was heartbroken when I heard that the theatre program at Mt. Hope High School is in danger of being eliminated. Having taught at Mt. Hope as the theatre teacher and director for …

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Letter: Save the Mt. Hope High School theatre program

Posted

To the editor:

I was heartbroken when I heard that the theatre program at Mt. Hope High School is in danger of being eliminated. Having taught at Mt. Hope as the theatre teacher and director for 15 years and being retired now for six years, I have had the pleasure of watching my students grow from young teenagers into adults with careers and families.

I’d like to tell you why they express their gratitude for the Mt. Hope theatre program.

Theatre is an art form that expresses and shares the human experience through an exchange of energy. This is the definition of theatre.

Why is this definition important?  It’s important because it tells us that theatre is not just “putting on a play.” It’s not just memorizing lines, walking around a stage, and playing make-believe. It’s about sharing the human experience. This means that theatre students need to first and foremost understand what it means to be human.

The theatre class is where students are constantly asking: Who am I – inside and out?  Who are you- inside and out? What are my feelings and emotions and motivations? Why am I feeling or reacting like this? Why do others think and behave the way they do? What makes me different and similar to everyone else and why?

I think you all know that theatre class encompasses multiple disciplines, history, math, science, English, physical endurance and strength, communication, creative problem solving, visual art, psychology, philosophy, information technology, critical thinking, and industrial technology and construction. All of these disciplines are used with respectful cohesiveness and with the knowledge that they are all pieces of a larger puzzle. And, most importantly, the final piece of the puzzle, is how students in theatre class learn how to be empathetic human beings. What other course of study does ALL of that at the same time – and then shares that completed puzzle with others?

Only in the theatre class do we find that the main goal for students is to learn how to explore and understand not only their own thoughts and emotions, but those of others. Empathy, compassion, understanding, acceptance and respect of self and others. I believe it’s now being referred to as “Social and Emotional Domain."

Again, this is the art form of theatre, NOT just an "after-school drama club" for which the sole purpose is to put on a play. It is what a formalized classroom with full curriculum approved by the State of Rhode Island and based on national standards does for our students.

How do I know all this, well, most meaningful is that my students have told me face to face, in emails, cards, and in the last 24 hours in an outpouring of texts and social media posts. I have asked them all to email their thoughts to you and they have.

The bottom line: Without theatre classes your students will lose. What will they lose?

A SAFE place to feel at home for the student who feels depressed, alone, anxious, or an outcast everywhere else.    

A SAFE place for the many students of diverse identities, including LGBTQ+ students, who often do not feel that they belong elsewhere.

A SAFE place for self reflection, expression, and exploration.

A SAFE place for students with special needs to not just feel like they belong, but actually be an integral member of the class and theatre process.

And JOBS. Look at all the credits after the next film you watch, not just the star actors, but, that very long list of names that many ignore – all those people get paid very well for their job. There are even more careers in theatre all over the country, on and off the stage, and in schools and universities.

I ask that you prove to your students, especially those I’ve just mentioned, that you care about the importance of the theatre arts by continuing the curriculum-driven theatre program at Mt. Hope – because, that would prove that you care about them.

Thank you for your attention to the needs of all students in the BristolWarren Regional School District..

Carol A. Schlink

Ms. Schlink was the Mt. Hope High School theatre teacher and director from 2000-2015. An actor and director, she is the co-founder of WomensWork Theatre Collaboration. She also sent this letter to the Bristol Warren Regional School Committee, Superintendent Dr. Jonathan Brice, Assistant Superintendent Dr. Diane Sanna, and Mt. Hope High School Principal Dr. Deb DiBiase.

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