Northern Stage Expands BridgeUP: Theater In The Schools To 8 Area Schools, Serving Nearly 300 Students

Northern Stage Expands BridgeUP: Theater In The Schools To 8 Area Schools, Serving Nearly 300 StudentsIn 2016, Northern Stage launched Shakespeare in the Schools, an intensive month-long residency that brought professional artists into area schools to teach students the power of acting and performing the words of William Shakespeare.

Each residency culminated in students performing one of Shakespeare's plays on the main stage at the Barrette Center for the Arts. The first schools served were Dothan Brook School (4th grade) and Hartland Elementary School (8th grade). The 2016 program, which served 73 students, launched without outside support and with only Northern Stage's hope that Shakespeare in the Schools would deeply enrich students' and educators' lives. In 2017, the program grew to five schools and 164 students from a geographic radius that included the least funded districts in Vermont.

This year, thanks in part to the support of the Pussycat Foundation, Clint and Bonnie Swift, and Education Fund donors, Northern Stage has once again been able to expand the program with dedicated staff and resources, professional development opportunities for teaching artists, and enhanced administrative and production support. Now called BridgeUP: Theater in the Schools, the program is bringing 16 teaching artists into 8 area schools and is serving nearly 300 students over a broad geographic radius, with a special focus on school districts where the arts are needed most.

Additionally, the program now includes the newly created BridgeUP: Musical Theater in the Schools. Schools served this year include Bluff Elementary School (Claremont, NH), Dothan Brook School (White River Junction, VT), Hartland Elementary School (Hartland, VT), Newbury Elementary School (Newbury, VT), Richards Elementary School (Newport, NH), Samuel Morey Elementary School (Fairlee, VT), Tunbridge Central School (Tunbridge, VT), and Westshire Elementary School (West Fairlee, VT). Northern Stage's Associate Director Amanda Rafuse is the BridgeUP Program Director with Susan Haefner as the BridgeUP Assistant Director. Rafuse notes, "Every day, we get to watch students be brave and take risks, get in touch with their emotions, listen genuinely, find their voices, stay cool under pressure, and pursue a large goal as a team. This program makes manifest the transformative power of connection through storytelling and is the epitome of Northern Stage's mission, to change lives, one story at a time."

The mission of BridgeUP: Theater in the Schools is to increase theater access and learning resources for rural and underserved youth throughout Vermont and New Hampshire. BridgeUP's pairing of highly trained professional actors with teachers and students creates a powerful mentorship that builds confidence and improves reading and language skills, while teaching the joy of live performance. The program also provides for low-cost access to professional productions throughout the school year. Special focus is given to areas classified with the greatest need for arts education through a rigorous selection process that takes many indicators of need into consideration.

The program has proven to be a tremendous success. One fourth grade teacher, after the program's inaugural season, wrote: "In just a few weeks' time, you taught our students the elements of drama, the difference between prose and poetry, and introduced them to iambic pentameter. But that is really only the surface of what you gave to these kids, and to us. You also taught them poise, how to speak in public, and how to take risks when things seem challenging. You gave them a space where they were comfortable to try new things, to make suggestions, and to be creative. But above all else, you gave each and every one of them confidence: confidence to be risk takers, confidence to try something difficult, and confidence in themselves. These are gifts they will carry with them for the rest of their lives." The program culminates in a performance for family and friends at the Barrette Center for the Arts on the Byrne Theater stage. "BridgeUP: Theater in the Schools is the heartbeat of Northern Stage," says Producing Artistic Director Carol Dunne, "The school performances in the fully professional Barrette Center for the Arts are a complete and total joy. We have literally watched students find gifts they did not know they have."

Northern Stage (northernstage.org) is a regional non-profit LORT-D professional theater company with a mission to change lives, one story at a time. Located in White River Junction, VT, Northern Stage actively involves its audiences with ambitious productions and expansive educational programs in its new home, the Barrette Center for the Arts. Founded in 1997, the company has offered more than 120 high-quality professional productions of new works, classics, and musicals. The company is now in its 21st season and annual attendance is over 35,000. Five years ago, the company launched a new play festival that has cultivated four world premiere productions and two Off-Broadway transfers. We teach, nurture, and inspire all generations of theater artists and theater lovers. A robust educational program focuses on professional training in a nurturing and supportive environment for students ages 6 and up. Yearlong acting ensembles, by-audition summer musical theater productions, a regional theater in the schools program, and a Dartmouth College Experiential Learning Term (accredited by Actor's Equity) are hallmarks of the educational offerings.

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