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Loss of Drama at Schools Is Big Loss

June 20, 1991

I cried this morning when I read the closing lines of Doug Smith's column, "Don't stay away long, Mary Poppins. The children need you," because it is my first day as an unemployed elementary school drama teacher.

More than five years ago, with an outstanding high school drama program already in place and aware of the tremendous benefits children can derive from learning acting skills and participating in performance, the La Canada Unified Schools created the position of Elementary Drama Consultant. At the same time, Assistance League of Flintridge established the Children's Drama Workshop, an after-school ensemble for 10- to 12-year-olds. I was hired as teacher/director of both programs.

In the school program, children received instruction in a variety of acting and public speaking skills, and, though performance was not necessarily a goal, we produced no fewer than 18 plays each year. Most productions were full-scale musicals with casts of anywhere from 28 to 105 actors.

Children who may never have set foot on a stage before sang, danced and acted with verve and intensity and drew rave reviews.

Our Children's Drama Workshop presented two major productions each year, including Maurice Sendak's "Really Rosie" and Della Ephron's "How To Eat Like a Child." Over the years, the workshop's reputation has grown; the number of applicants for the ensemble is nearly triple what can be accepted and our audiences include a loyal following of theater-goers.

All this was accomplished with huge amounts of support and dedication from parents and community, some of them industry professionals, but most of them simply people who were dedicated to the goal of providing children with the opportunity to participate in theater.

The reward for all of us was in seeing the growth, the self-esteem and joy that literally glowed from these young actors. Dozens of times we heard the same reviews from our audiences: "I thought I was just coming to another children's play, but this was fabulous!" and "This is remarkable. I had no idea children could do this."

I wanted you to know that theater for children has been alive and well in our community for five years and about two hundred performances. The end to the elementary drama program came last week when our local parcel tax was defeated (by only 19 votes, they tell me).

Thank you for valuing theater for and by children.

GALE CASWELL

La Canada Flintridge

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