SalemNews.com, Salem, MA

January 18, 2013

Carlton School theater program is blossoming

Beth Forrestal
The Salem News

---- — My daughter, a second-grader at Salem’s Carlton Innovation School, has always loved “A Christmas Carol.” I never understood why until I took her to see the North Shore Music Theatre’s production last year. I was floored. She was emotionally involved in Scrooge’s redemption in the way only a 6-year-old could be: She wanted him to be happy and have lots of friends.

Seeing a man reborn onstage can help my daughter with her own, real-world relationships in the classroom and at the park. So, too, the children involved in Carlton’s new nonprofit theater program will gain new skills and insights through participating onstage and behind the scenes.

Carlton parent and actor Scott Fortier first proposed the idea.

“My wife, September, and I have participated in small professional theater for over 20 years,” Fortier told me. “It has enriched our lives and brought joy to our everyday experience. I very much wanted to share that experience with the kids of the Carlton Innovation School, and found a small group of dedicated teachers and parents who felt the same.”

The theater company became a reality last year, when Fortier helped bring several live performances to the school, including Senegalese drummers and Chinese acrobats. This year, the program will continue its mission: to foster creativity, confidence and cooperation in our children. Several parents, myself included, have joined the company’s parent volunteer corps.

Our short-term goals are to address the mission via our in-progress schoolwide production of “Willy Wonka Jr.” and by bringing live theater assemblies to Carlton. In the long term, we will be adding a playwriting program for older students. This will allow students to write their own 10-minute plays centered on their own everyday experiences, to be performed by local actors for the school. Shawna Erps, reading specialist at Carlton, notes that children are “more motivated and invested in writing if they are writing for a real-world purpose and not a grade from a teacher.” Erps goes on to say that the new Common Core Standards include script writing.

“Exposure to and participation in live theater will empower our children and give them a platform from which they can express their experiences of the world and of their place in it,” Fortier said. “Theater is ephemeral and collaborative. It happens in the now and is dependent upon a great many people coming together to share their talents, time and perspective. Participation in this process can teach our children that their lives count, that their thoughts and ideas matter, and that they have a safe place where they can share their unique experience of the world.”

The kids involved in the “Willy Wonka Jr.” production are excited about the process. Gwen Robinson, who plays gum-smacking Violet Beauregarde, decided to try out for the play after seeing her sister in lead roles in school productions and wanting to be like her. She feels that the process is increasing her confidence.

Cameron Hart, our Willy Wonka, agrees. “I would like to not have stage fright,” he says. Cameron also enjoys the extra time with friends that the rehearsals afford. The kids rehearse every Wednesday from 2:30 to 4 p.m. and from noon to 4 p.m. on monthly half-days.

Participating in the play is a big commitment, but each of the student actors has stepped up to the plate.

Oscar Wilde wrote, “I regard the theatre as the greatest of all art forms, the most immediate way in which a human being can share with another the sense of what it is to be a human being.” Whether it be theater arts assemblies, a production of “Willy Wonka Jr.” or a soon-to-be-established playwriting program, Carlton Innovation School is taking the great playwright’s thoughts to heart.

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Salem parent Beth Forrestal volunteers with the Carlton Theater Company.