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STEM on Stage: UH Theatre Students Help Kids Create Original Plays

Students intern, teach at Alley Theatre Play Makers camp.

Undergraduates in the UH theatre education program aren’t afraid stand in the spotlight before a classroom of students. In fact, it’s where they shine.

As early as their first year in the program, theatre education majors get hands-on experience through a partnership with Lantrip Elementary School. Once a week during the academic year, UH students head to the nearby elementary school to lead lessons and workshops during an afterschool theatre club.

“The theatre club is foundational to our theatre educators,” say Jackie deMontmollin, associate director of theatre education at UH. “It gives them a chance to work directly with kids in a real world setting from the moment they enter our program.”

“It’s pretty amazing,” adds Ryan Simpson (BFA ’20), who just completed his freshman year. “We work with kids from first through fifth grade, so we try to tailor the same lesson for each age group. It’s a fantastic opportunity to learn what works for different students.”

The club also sets the stage for UH students to connect with the local community through other avenues. Just this summer, Simpson and three fellow theatre education majors – Lindsey Pritchett (BFA ’20), McCoy Rasco (BFA ’19) and Jason Quach (BFA ’18) – are working with the Alley Theatre’s Play Makers program, a series of two-week summer camps designed to introduce campers to STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) concepts through theatre. The camp includes movement, acting and “play making” – or narrative storytelling – classes, as well as arts and crafts classes to teach campers about technical theatre.

Simpson and Pritchett, both first year interns, lead the campers through daily warm up exercises and support the Teaching Artists with classroom management. “It’s a good chance for us to observe how instructors lead classes and use lesson plans,” says Simpson, who works with fourth and fifth graders.

Pritchett agrees. “We can see in real time what strategies and techniques keep the kids engaged and what things don’t,” she adds. Though she works with the youngest campers, Kindergarteners and first graders, she finds that the most successful strategies are transferrable. “We set clear expectations up front and then bring a lot of positive energy to the class so they see us as someone they want to learn from.”

Rasco and Quach, both of whom interned with the Alley last summer, returned this year as Teaching Artists. In the new role, they are each responsible for developing play making lesson plans and helping their campers create an original play. 

“Camp is supposed to be fun, so we have to strike a balance that is engaging, playful and still challenging,” Rasco says. It takes a lot of planning, he admits, but says he’s grateful for the experience at Lantrip. “I can connect the material in my play making classes with what I created during the school year and build on those lesson plans.”

Rasco and Quach also lead the afternoon arts and craft classes where students build props and sets for their plays. These classes provide Quach, who has a background in scenic painting, an ideal opportunity to bring together his passions for teaching and technical theatre. “The practical applications of [technical] theatre are so amazing,” he says, recalling how he built sets and ran lighting for plays during high school. “I had never created anything like that before, and I fell in love." He hopes to inspire campers to connect with theatre in a similar way. “Using theatre to teach other concepts is so important. It was life changing for me, and I want to be able to help other kids make those connections.”