(Editor's note: This article is the fourth in an eight-part series featuring the SKIES Unlimited program, which is designed to enrich military children's lives by expanding their knowledge, allowing them to explore and learn new skills.)

FORT DRUM, N.Y. -- Fort Drum youths are taking center stage and learning to build confidence through the art of theater.

The drama and theater program, which is one of the many classes offered through the Schools of Knowledge, Inspiration, Exploration and Skills Unlimited, is designed to help youths 6 to 18 develop a stage presence through use of charades, karaoke, skits and vocal activities.

The Child, Youth and School Service staff decided to offer the program to students because it helps build on memorization skills and helps youths "grow into their own character," explained Mindy Dunlap, SKIES Unlimited instructor.

The drama and theater program has been ongoing for about a year.

Sessions usually consist of skit and stand-up comedy performances, as well as costume design.
Dunlap noted many of the children who come to the first session are shy, but after a few weeks of working together she notices the timid children usually emerge with more confidence.

Currently, the group is working on two short skits: The DeCrunchy Code -- a mystery play featuring children on a quest to find a candy bar -- and The Fearsome Four vs. the Giant Paperboy from Outer Space -- an action-packed skit about four superheroes on a quest to save the world.

Each child performs a few lines in both plays. They also are working on making costumes for each play.

At the end of the month, the youths will perform the skits for Family and friends.
Dunlap said she feels the most important thing the kids take away from the program is that they are using their memory. "They get a chance to be what they want to be and have fun."
She stressed that "fun" is the most important aspect, overall.

"I notice they become better characters if it's fun to them," she added, noting she tells the children that "it's OK to be unique."

Jennifer Nix said she enrolled her daughter, Carolyn, 11, in the class because she has an interest in acting. Nix also thought this would be a good way for Carolyn to gauge if she wants to pursue acting when she gets older.

Carolyn, who has been in the class for six months, has improved her public speaking and she has better memorization skills, since she began working with Dunlap, Nix noted.

"(Carolyn) enjoys learning the different plays she's been involved in and making costumes. She even practices her lines at home," Nix added.

Nix also raved about the fact that the program accommodates all ages from toddlers to high school students.

For additional about SKIES Unlimited classes, call 772-0629.