Avon’s Theatre Program Builds Character, Confidence & Creativity in Local Students

Writer / Christy Heitger-Ewing

When my son came home from school last year and told me he was planning to try out for the school play, I was so happy. I knew that the experience would not only be fun, but it also had the potential to shape him in a multitude of positive ways.

First off, numerous studies show that students are more successful academically when they are involved in some form of art education. Second, creativity, problem-solving, self-confidence and social skills tend to improve in drama students. Third, theatre students master the ability to memorize, critically analyze a written body of work (a script), take direction and handle criticism.

“Drama kids learn that constructive feedback helps them improve and grow in their craft,” says Caitlyn Spires, who heads up Avon High School’s theatre department. “Self-reflection is a big thing that not a lot of high schoolers are comfortable doing, but it’s highly beneficial.”

Then there’s the aspect of teamwork. Just like on a sports squad, theatre kids learn that it takes the entire cast and crew to pull off a successful production. The sports analogy extends even further according to Ben Jones, drama club sponsor at Avon Middle School North (AMSN). He maintains that a stage, just like a football field, is a great place to release life’s frustrations.

“To free pent-up angst on the football field, a kid can go knock someone down. On stage, they perform an anger scene,” Jones says. “Losing oneself in a character is very cathartic.”

Theatre is also a great avenue for learning about rejection and where it can lead you.

“I had 20-plus kids I couldn’t cast in the fall musical and while I hate having to disappoint students, it’s good for them to see that sometimes you don’t’ get the role, the promotion, the scholarship, whatever it is,” Spires says. “That disappointment propels them to ask what they can do better next time.”

Interest in performing arts in Avon has clearly grown in recent years, thanks to places like the Biz Academy of Musical Theatre and Hendricks Civic Theatre, a non-profit organization that serves the community.

“I see kids coming into auditions confident as freshman,” Spires says. “Some of them even have their acting resumes and professional head shots.”

Jones has also been pleased with the increased student enthusiasm. Last winter, AMSN put on a production of “The Jungle Book” in which roughly 50 students auditioned. This year, however, that number doubled for “The Wizard of Oz” auditions. Jones is especially pleased to see that boys are gaining interest in productions

“In the past, I’ve sometimes had to cast females in male parts simply because I didn’t have boys who wanted to participate,” Jones says. “This fall, though, the first 10 “Oz” audition forms turned into me were from guys. That’s awesome.”

Vanessa Belcher, drama club sponsor at Avon Middle School South (AMSS), credits HCT, the Hendricks County Arts Council, The Biz and The Avon Education Foundation for promoting a love of the arts in all demographics. She also praises the involvement of parents and other adults in the Avon community for supporting the arts programs.

“In Avon, we are fortunate to have administrators who value these community efforts and echo this [sentiment] throughout the schools’ programs and activities,” says Belcher, whose favorite aspect of school theatre is having a front-row seat to student growth.

“I like watching them learn what they are capable of and push past those limitations they put on themselves,” Belcher says. “I have yet to grow tired of that experience, and I’m not sure I ever will.”

AMSS is currently in rehearsals for “High School Musical Jr.,” which will run in mid-November. Students at AMSN will perform “The Wizard of Oz” the first weekend of December. AHS, who last month wrapped production of the musical “The Adams Family,” will perform “Peter and the Star Catcher” — a prequel to “Peter Pan” — in the spring.

In addition, in the spring the Drama Club at AMSS will focus on skill-building through monthly workshops.

“Due to commitments and schedules, we are only able to host one production per school year so we will spend the second [semester] honing the skills you see in action on stage,” Belcher says.

Jones hopes that in future years the middle schools will have the budget and resources to put on multiple shows. He knows how important it is to have this sacred space for students because in his words, “theatre saved him.” Having struggled with dyslexia as a youth, Jones credits the stage with giving him something joyful and uplifting on which to focus.

“When I discovered theatre, my world was transformed,” says Jones, whose mission is to help provide that transformational place for his students. “The biggest compliment I can get is when a parent thanks me for giving their child a home away from home at school.”

Without fail, students evolve and mature as a result of participating in theatre. Belcher notes that in school theatre, she celebrates different types of victories. Sometimes it’s, “She made it onstage and delivered her line without freezing up.” Other times it’s, “He learned that there’s a more positive way to channel that energy.”

“[Theatre breeds] pride, persistence, patience, respect, teamwork, confidence, a voice, a life path and the list goes on,” Belcher says. “These kids learn important things about life and themselves, through theatre.”

Upcoming Theatre Productions at Avon Schools

Avon Middle School South
7199 East U.S. Highway 36
“High School Musical Jr.”
Nov. 17 @ 7 p.m.
Nov. 18 @ 2 p.m.
Nov. 18 @ 7 p.m.

Avon Middle School North
1251 N. Dan Jones Road
“The Wizard of Oz”
Dec. 1 @ 7 p.m.
Dec. 2 @ 7 p.m.

Avon High School
7575 East 150 South
“Peter and the Star Catcher”
Spring 2018 (dates TBA)

Middle school ticket prices:
$8 for adults
$5 for students & seniors

High school ticket prices:
$13 for adults
$8 for students & seniors

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