South Shore School of Theatre
Building a Responsive Community Children's Theatre
Tara Brooke Watkins is a very busy woman. Between running her own theater (she is the founder of the South Shore School of Theatre), she is also a Theater Producer and Instructor at Eastern Nazarene College, where she is teaching two classes and directing two shows. At the same time, she is also getting her master's in Theater Education from Emerson College. Nevertheless, last summer, when she was approached by parents after the CBACT Festival (which SSST hosted) to do year-round programming at her young theater company, she said, "Yes".
The South Shore School of Theatre had just finished its second successful summer of theatre for kids aged 7 to 17, with productions of The Drowsy Chaperone and The Music Man. SSST was originally intended as a summer program only, yet Tara was struck by the sense of urgency in the requests of these parents.
"I didn't think that I was part of a community until we had the festival here," Tara explains. "And then we had so many parents say to us that there is no theatre or art for our kids in Quincy. Parents really wanted me to expand our program. It's a big city for there to be no arts education."
Coincidentally, this fall one of Tara's classes at Emerson has been "Theater and Community". The class has been exploring how to respond to the needs and issues in a community through theater. "It's about introducing people to theater and showing them how theater can help them, how it can affect change, and bring a voice to their issues. We all know about the power of theater to transform lives."
In fact, Tara recalls how many parents reported how excited and confident their kids were after last summer's program at SSST—a true measure of the success of SSST's mission to build character on and off stage. Yet Tara still had to figure out how she could expand the program. After all, she is only one person and how much more could she actually do? It wasn't until one of her ENC students approached her about teaching theater that the answer became clear. "My intern from this summer's CBACT Festival, Allison Tucker, suggested that maybe she could teach and I could oversee her as her senior project. It was kismet, and I realized this is the direction I should be going in."
So now Tara has created a model where she will provide internships for ENC students who want to teach and direct. She will provide internships for college students who want to further their careers in theatre, such as the set design internship Tara created for a Boston College sophomore who is now set designing for her college theatre program. She is now teaching the next generation of theater teachers and, at the same time, living out the mission of her theater.
SSST now has three fully-enrolled fall and winter classes, grouped by ages. The youth group (7-9 year olds) is doing Aesop's Fables this fall, while the junior group (10-12 year olds) is doing Alice in Wonderland. The senior group (13-17 year olds) is doing Eleemosynary from November through February. There will be spring sessions as well.
For more information about SSST, please visit SSST's website.