Spotlight on Charlotte: Theatre Education
Teaching and theatre are a labor of love. Both require exceptional talent, creative thinking and sometimes, saintly patience. Combining the two can be exhilarating for teachers, students, and audience members alike. In Charlotte, North Carolina, theatre education is taken very seriously as USITT members will find out during the 2011 Annual Conference & Stage Expo March 9 to 12.
Theatre education in the area is about as ubiquitous as dogwood blossoms in spring. Home to one of the largest public school systems in the country, educating over 130,000 students, the Charlotte-Mecklenburg school system supports 650 fine arts programs scattered throughout the county’s 140 schools. It is in this setting that the first love of the arts often blooms.
Most notable among these is Northwest School of the Arts (NWSA), the district’s Visual and Performing Arts Magnet School. Magnet Schools of America named NWSA a Magnet School of Distinction in 2009. It teaches concentrated theatre arts at the middle and high school level. While most of the curriculum is geared towards performance, technical theatre students are given the opportunity each year to take their spring musical to the Blumenthal Performing Arts Center in downtown Charlotte. They load in, tech, and run the show in the Booth Playhouse with the assistance of stagehands from the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees Local 322. The students spend the whole week working with these professionals, honing their technical skills, and being taught by example.
As Charlotte’s population and name recognition keep growing, students increasingly flock there from all over the country to pursue higher education. The region offers excellent educational opportunities at schools including the highly ranked Central Piedmont Community College, the arts-focused University of North Carolina School of the Arts, the small private institution of Davidson College, and the massive research-oriented University of North Carolina at Charlotte.
UNC-C, in particular, is a fantastic example of what Charlotte has to offer. In the midst of Charlotte’s rapidly expanding urban environment, the university hosts 19,000 undergraduate students a year, with a handful of declared theatre and theatre education majors and minors. The result is a cohesive department with an excellent faculty, including two United Scenic Artists 829 designers, a phenomenal student/teacher ratio, first-rate facilities, and state of the art lighting and sound equipment in the Anne R. Belk Theatre and the Black Box Theatre of Robinson Hall. Theatre education at UNC-C is balanced with an equal focus on theory and production turning out hard-working and well-rounded students year after year.
Many Charlotte residents consider ImaginOn: The Joe and Joan Martin Center, to be a shining gem in the Queen City’s theatre crown. ImaginOn opened in 2005 and houses both the Children’s Theatre of Charlotte and a branch of the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Public Library, whose services are focused on the enrichment of children and teens. The Children’s Theatre of Charlotte was awarded the Medallion Award from The Children’s Theatre Foundation of America in 2008 and offers year-round theatre education for ages three to 18.
Training occurs at varying skill levels and commitments, ranging from eight-week class sessions to the year-long School of Theatre Training (SOTT), a program that gives third through 12th graders the opportunity to study a specific area of the dramatic arts, such as musical theatre or scene work. SOTT culminates in a project called OnStage, in which over 100 students divided into four casts and backed by Children’s Theatre’s award winning team of designers and technicians, mount four fully produced plays for one fantastic weekend of theatre.
Great theatre not withstanding, in this arena it is the student’s experience that counts. With so many supportive avenues to explore, a young person can begin learning about theatre at any age or skill level. Wherever they choose to pursue a theatre education in Charlotte, they also will learn critical thinking, self-confidence, and the expression of their unique artistic voice. Students will reap life-long benefits from their involvement in the arts. In the mean time, however, the audiences and the community will continue to profit from their enrichment.
For more information on any of these organizations, visit their websites at: www.cms.k12.nc.us/northwest, arts.cpcc.edu/performing-arts/theatre, www.davidson.edu/theatre, www.coaa.uncc.edu/Academics/Department-of-theatre, or www.uncsa.edu.