Shakespeare on Base summer program educates, cares for Fort Bragg students
August 5, 2011
FORT BRAGG, N.C. - An ensemble of 42 students crowded behind a stage they painted and constructed themselves, listening as their director gave them a few last words of encouragement before show time in front of their Families and friends at Butner Elementary School on Friday.
“Stay focused and I know you’ll hit a home run,” said Joseph Henderson, acting director for the Shakespeare on Base program on Fort Bragg.
Henderson, former executive director of the Walltown Children’s Theater in Durham, said he was inspired to provide arts enrichment opportunities to children on military bases by a speech about aiding military Families.
The program was offered free of charge thanks to sponsorship by United Way of Cumberland County who used a grant from the Youth Growth Stock Trust as well as partnerships with Fayetteville car dealerships to pull together the nearly $20,000 needed for the program.
The students sampled three of Shakespeare’s plays: “Romeo and Juliet,” “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” and “Macbeth” as well as several dance performances and two songs. Henderson said he chose the three plays to give the students a good introduction to Shakespeare, with two tragedies and one comedy.
Henderson said the program focused not only on acting and learning lines, but on many more aspects of drama including visual art for props and set, singing and dance. The students moved through different stations to learn all aspects of the production.
The young actors ranged in age from five to 14 years, and while Henderson admitted that it was at times challenging to organize 42 students of such varied ages, it was a challenge he was more than willing to meet.
“That’s the good of the program,” Henderson said. “It’s a safe environment where students can learn. It takes stress off of parents because they know their children are being cared for. It’s academic without feeling like school for the students and it also acts as a stress reliever for the children. Military children need programs like this.”
Some of the actors had previous drama experience, but some of them came into the program not knowing what to expect, he said.
“They’ve been surprised by themselves,” Henderson said. “Some of them could have never imagined themselves dancing and singing and acting.”
Twelve-year-old Celvin Davis was one of the students who didn’t have high expectations of himself.
“I saw a play called The Color Purple, and really liked it,” Davis said. “My grandma found out about the program and told me about it. At first I thought I couldn’t do it. But then I started memorizing the lines and it got easier and easier.”
Davis, who thought so little of his abilities, landed one of the leading roles as Romeo in “Romeo and Juliet,” and as a dancer in the modern dance piece.
McKenzie Ingalls, a 10-year-old with a bit more experience under her belt, said a previous director recommended the program to her.
“I decided, ‘Why not give it a shot?’” she said. McKenzie played Hermia in “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” and danced in a West African dance selection.
Robert Hines, president and CEO of the United Way of Cumberland County said the program was meant to support military Families.
“The whole idea was for them to come and learn something from 9 to 3 and not think about mom and dad being deployed,” Hines said. “Sometimes they need a distraction from all the stress of being a military child, whether their parent is home for the time being or deployed.”
Mia Moore just moved to Fort Bragg and said she asked her mother to enroll her in Shakespeare on Base because she loves acting and wanted to go out and make new friends.
Frequent change of duty station is one of the more common stressors for military children, a factor that the program is designed to combat.
“I learned to be better at singing,” said Moore, 8. “I loved doing the art, too.” Moore participated in the party scene and had a solo in the song, “New Soul.”
Karen Miller, chief of the Fort Bragg Child, Youth and School Services and Teresa Sicinski, wife of Col. Stephen Sicinski, garrison commander, were credited with orchestrating much of the program, according to Hines.
“They really got on board with us,” she said. “They heard the presentation and jumped at the opportunity,” Hines said.
“We were absolutely ecstatic,” Sicinski said. “It wasn’t just about theater. It was about the stories. Anything we can do to introduce our children to drama and the arts is important. It was a chance to get them out of the CYSS facilities to learn something different and exciting.”
Sicinski also said that the program could not have existed without support from CYSS, that provided transportation for the children from different CYSS facilities, including Tolson Youth Center. Adding that Butner Elementary School principal Priscilla Joiner was more than willing to open the doors to the school to support the program.
“Doing it at the elementary school was a perfect fit,” Miller said. “They’re not using it right now and we needed a place for the program. That was one of our biggest hurdles,” she said.
“Being able to offer it without expense to our Families was the best part,” Sicinski noted. “Summer camps are often expensive and many of our Families can’t afford it. With all the support from United Way, CYSS and everyone else, we’re able to offer an amazing program for our kids, kids who might not have been able to attend otherwise,” she said.
Henderson said his goal is to take Shakespeare on Base to other military installations across the country and to provide more military children the opportunity to have an introduction to Shakespeare and drama.