Unleashing their creativity: Theater offers benefits for students

Cast and crew members warm up March 5 before a dress rehearsal of Marengo High School's spring musical "You're a Good Man, Charlie Brown."
Cast and crew members warm up March 5 before a dress rehearsal of Marengo High School's spring musical "You're a Good Man, Charlie Brown."

WOODSTOCK – Some nights after school, Julia Slomski spends 4 to 6 p.m. in school rehearsals. Then, she spends 7 to 9 p.m. rehearsing for community shows.

She’s just 16 years old, a sophomore at Woodstock North High School. But she’d have it no other way.

For Slomski and others, theater has unlocked something in them that other opportunities didn’t offer. To hear Woodstock North High School Drama Director Tish Lyon say it, theater is a vital engagement of both sides of the brain – an activity or hobby or, for some, a career that offers benefits that go beyond the auditorium.

“It’s just something that’s so different from everything else that’s offered for people my age,” Slomski said.

Slomski started in fifth grade with school shows. Community theater came later.

Last year, she got a chance to work with some of the state’s best high school thespians. Slomski auditioned for the all-state production on the campus of Illinois State University in Bloomington. She went in with low expectations. She came out elated.

“I really looked at it like, I will get to know the audition process of all-state, and maybe in a few years, I’ll be up for something,” she said.

Slomski soon found out she was the only sophomore in the state to make the cast.

“It was really kind of mind-blowing,” she said.

Rehearsals were held over long weekends leading up to the performances earlier this year. On Fridays, they started in the afternoon and ran until 9 p.m. On Saturdays and Sundays, they lasted from 8 a.m. to 9 p.m.

“You’re tired at the end of it,” Slomski said. “But it’s a good tired.”

Lyon, a teacher at McHenry County College who joined Woodstock North two years ago to build up a skeletal program, says her students learn far more than how to perform or provide technical assistance to a production.

“I’m not trying to only build actors,” Lyon said. “I want to help our exceptional students reach their full potential in any career path they choose.”

Those in the field tend to agree the arts benefit students away from their theater careers.

Jim Smith, Director of Illinois Thespians, said research backs that up.

“What the research tells us is that students that are involved with the arts in some respects are going to be much more well-rounded individuals, more creative, often times get better jobs and better opportunities because they have that mindset to look at things from different angles,” Smith said.

Although Smith sees those benefits as justification enough for involvement in the arts, he guessed that about 10 percent of students who do high school drama keep their involvement going, at least at the college level.

He added that making a career of theater often means changing your understanding of the jobs available. About half the students walk in thinking they’re the next Broadway star, he said.

“The other half is probably more realistic about it, and say well either I’m going to get into the educational or the technical side of it,” said Smith, who directs the drama department at Ridgewood High School in Norridge.

While she still has time to think about it, Slomski said she sees theater in her future – in one capacity or another. She’s interested in the behind the scenes stuff, as well.

“This is something I do want to pursue,” she said. “I’ve obviously talked a lot with my parents about it, and just kind of recently decided this is something I’m serious about.”

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