Cultural Quarterly
Winter 2009
Volume XXII, Number 1
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Real Life Lessons Take
the Stage at FLCT

By Holly Strawbridge

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Cinderella - Fort Lauderdale Childrens Theatre
photo credit Terry Townsend

Diversity in learning styles, abilities and social behaviors can make teaching and learning a challenge. As a result, some children do not respond to traditional schooling techniques. The solution may lie in using theater to reach the children in creative ways.

For children interested in acting and stage production, the Fort Lauderdale Children’s Theatre (FLCT) has been the place to go since 1952. FLCT offers a full season of productions for young people in which the children not only act, but also serve in the technical positions such as stage managers, lighting and spotlight operators, and backstage crew.

More recently, the FLCT has partnered with the Broward County Public Schools in an arts-infused literacy program for children in grades 5 and 7. Actor-teachers in the joint “Page to Stage” program work in the classroom using a variety of interactive theater techniques to improve reading comprehension by making learning a creative process. For many children, it is the first time they have read a book cover to cover.

“Movement and physicality triggers the students’ imaginations and connects the mind, body and spirit. It’s far more interesting than sitting quietly in a desk with emotions and energy turned off,” says FLCT Executive Artistic Director Janet Erlick.

Lessons learned

Sussical @ Fort Lauderdale Childrens Theatre
photo credit Terry Townsend

Although the acting bug bites many star-struck youngsters, Erlick knows the lessons they learn in the theater have profound implications for success beyond the stage, in school and in life. “Research indicates that emotional intelligence and executive functioning, defined as choosing to be involved and not distracted, are higher indications of student success than IQ. The arts teach these things through repetition in pursuit of perfection,” she explains. “Not everyone is an actor, but young people learn how to present themselves well and speak in front of a group,” she says.

Whereas today’s technological society demands and produces instant gratification, the creative process enhances work ethic by helping children understand the satisfaction that comes with working toward perfection.

“Writing and rewriting drafts is simply not done anymore. But the arts require developing these skills, which then influence social behavior and learning,” says Erlick.

Tackling serious societal issues
Theater training is also being used to reduce bullying - an enormous problem in schools.  Educators and parents alike are eager for solutions, and Erlick believes that the lessons inherent in acting teach empathy, which can reduce antisocial behavior.

“The diversity in South Florida is a challenge. Children come from many backgrounds and speak many different languages. Antisocial behavior can occur when people don’t understand the world from someone else’s point of view. Theater teaches empathy by helping children understand the motivation and relationships of characters. They learn to assess how their actions will influence a character’s development and can apply these lessons in real life,” Erlick explains.

Jungle Book
Jungle Book @Fort Lauderdale Childrens Theatre
photo credit Terry Townsend

Delivering a dream
Sometimes theater heals. No one knows this better than FLCT, which has teamed with an organization called Deliver the Dream to ease the path for families struggling with serious health issues. Deliver the Dream provides four-day weekend retreats for families chosen by partner medical centers. FLCT travels throughout the Southeastern U.S. and Florida to provide expressive arts workshops at these retreats.

“We use theater and visual arts to help the families express their feelings about emotionally charged issues. The process increases communication within families and connects them to others in a sense of community,” says Erlick. 

Some of the workshops are just for fun. “Kids see dad dressing in a crazy hat and laugh. No matter which way it goes, it’s the healing power of artistic expression that makes magic,” Erlick says.



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