Creative storytelling, infused with a steady stream of giggles and smiles, is the foundation of a Colorado State University-based program that inspires young people to take on all aspects of a theatrical production.
The innovative program was created more than 20 years ago by Walt Jones, founding director and theatre professor who has been with the University since 2006. The program has now branched out to the CSU Center in Todos Santos, Baja California Sur, México – and become an annual activity for the community. For the last two years, student and alumni counselors worked with 7- to 12-year-olds from Colorado and Todos Santos to write, produce, and perform a play together. The first year the program attracted about 20 school-aged students, but grew to nearly 50 students in the summer of 2015.
Kids really do it all
“The kids are the ones that write the plays, they are the ones that come up with the ideas, characters, they are the ones that build all the sets,” said Tucker Lehman, a CSU student who participated in the program in its inaugural year in Todos Santos.
The inspiring bicultural children’s theater represents educational and cultural exchange between Mexico and the United States. It effectively creates learning, inspires creativity, builds confidence and breaks down barriers for all the participants. The goal, Jones said, is to help children grow into successful human beings.
“What prompted this program was to try to formalize playing,” Jones said during a micro-documentary featuring the program’s production from summer 2015 in Todos Santos.
From script writing to set building, the young participants can take the production in whatever direction they wish. Instructors provide coaching and encouragement.
“We don’t get involved in with trying to change what they write,” Jones said. “Sometimes they are really odd … scenes intersect with scenes that make no sense. But somehow in performance, they make sense. So it gives kids the further experience of knowing that they own what they created.”
The children’s theater program also builds on Colorado State’s land-grant university mission of teaching, research, service, and exchange for the benefit of the citizens of Colorado, the United States, and the world. Kids Do It All is one of many learning and cultural platforms the Todos Santos center offers in order to carry forth CSU’s outreach mission.
Cultivating global citizens … and making new friends
The focus is not to create actors, playwrights, or theater aficionados, but rather create an experience of working together, celebrating creativity and embracing other cultures. The kids learn that they are more alike than they are different, regardless of where they come from.
“Theater can be a powerful weapon, like many other artistic tools. Because through them, children can find a way to express themselves to the world, what they are feeling, living or thinking,” said Daniela Reyes Perez, who was among the Universidad Autónoma de Baja California Sur (UABCS) students who participated in the 2015 summer program.
“The greatest reward for me was seeing children who had started this week with us and had presented serious problems when interacting with others, trouble with diction, or lack of body language,” said Reyes Perez. “Yet, at the end of the program, they became children who were able to express their feelings with words, who dared to speak out at something they did not like, and were able to appear before a public, say their lines, singing, acting, and did it all with no problem.”
The Kids Do It All youth music-theatre program also takes place annually at the University Center for the Arts during June and July. For more information about the week-long collective creation intensive day camp, including dates and times, click here.