Teen Actor’s Lab Offers Students a Safe Space to Study, Socialize and Share the Stage
“I wanted Annabelle to have a way to connect with others her age. I’m so thankful to the Blumenthal for creating this outlet. There’s a limited pool of arts programming during normal times. It’s a huge blessing to have this now.” – Marie Duty
Like many parents in the age of COVID, Marie Duty worries her daughter isn’t socializing enough. Annabelle, a freshman at Ardrey Kell High School, has seen few people other than her neighborhood friends since the March lockdown. She loves theater and feels confident both backstage and onstage.
Now, she has both back in her life.
The education department at Blumenthal Performing Arts launched Blumenthal Teen Actor’s Lab, a theater-centric, in-person learning hub for students in sixth through 12th grades, on August 31.
Held at Spirit Square, Teen Actor’s Lab is open to any student with an interest in theater. No prior experience is needed. There’s no audition. Scholarships are available. And, careful attention has been paid to develop the program with safety precautions very much in mind.
Designed to be exciting for students & easy on parents
“We hope to host 20 to 30 students per day with 10 students per level of the building. Each group will have socially distant workspaces and an alternative space … where they can socialize on breaks,” said Andie Maloney, Blumenthal’s Vice President of Education.
The program is designed to be easy for parents to manage. Students can be dropped off and picked up any time between 7:45 a.m. and 5:45 p.m. And Blumenthal is in this as long as the need exists. “We will offer the program until in-person learning returns,” said Maloney.
When the school day is done, students participate in small-group workshops that may include acting, technical theatre and movement. All are led by teaching artists with extensive experience in their fields.
Parents register their students in blocks of one day a week, four weeks at a time. Students might choose to attend four Mondays in a row or four Thursdays.
“We didn’t want to make families book for a full week,” said Maloney. “Teens are welcome to sign up for more than one day a week – and a few have.” They can also enroll for more than a month.
Offering a varied theater experience
Two different hour-long workshop sessions take place at 3 and 4:30 p.m.; teens will have the option to attend one or both each day, depending on when their school day ends.
Acting sessions could include monologues, (distanced) scene work, dialects, improv and mask work. (NOTE: “Mask work” is a theater thing – even when there’s not a pandemic! Instructing students to act while they’re wearing full-face masks shows them how to use their body language to convey emotion. This may be the class all of us need these days.)
Technical theater work may include lighting, set, audio and projection design, light and soundboard, equipment basics and more. Movement classes might include yoga, group exercise or dance combinations for the actor and basic dance technique with modifications for more advanced students.
Due to the wide array of CMS, private and homeschooling schedules, each student’s experience in the Actor’s Lab will look a little different.
“We ask families for their student’s school schedule a few days prior to the session start and aim to group students with similar schedules,” Maloney said. “Most high schools are on the same virtual schedule so they’re grouped together. Every room has a staff member to ensure safety protocols are followed.”
Meeting demand … with Safety in Mind
And “safety” is key. Daily temperature checks and COVID questionnaires are required upon entering Spirit Square. To reduce the number of people in the facility, parents and caregivers aren’t permitted in the building for drop-off or pick-up, and face masks must be worn at all times except when in marked spots that exceed 6 feet of distancing. Click to read about the Actor’s Lab’s safety precautions in detail.
Classroom spaces are thoroughly cleaned between use, and shared materials are sanitized before and after use.
“The Blumenthal is following every single protocol for staying safe,” said Amanda Roberts, Myers Park High School theater teacher. “Parents can feel good about all the precautions they’re taking. Being isolated hits teens especially hard on a social and emotional level. This lab provides them a safe way to connect in person. There’s no downside.”
For parents and teachers, Teen Actor’s Lab looks after students’ physical health, as well as their emotional health by providing them an outlet to learn their craft and enjoy the communal side of the stage.
“We heard from theater teachers that their students were desperately missing in-person theater classes and wanted to be able to safely socialize,” Maloney said.
Roberts was the first to approach Maloney. “Theater is about being an ensemble,” she said. “Zoom can get really draining, especially when it’s the only way you see your peers.”
Parents want this in-person interaction as much as students do. Maloney said, “We got feedback from parents that their teen really needed to get out of the house and missed the theater.”
It’s the in-person aspect Marie Duty is most excited about for her daughter. “Annabelle is taking a theater class online,” Duty said. “But the Teen Actor’s Lab allows her to be in person with like-minded teens in a safe environment.”
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Andie Maloney Talks Teen Actor’s Lab on QC@3
Photography from Ernest Moren Photography.
This article was the result of a paid partnership between Charlotte is Creative and Blumenthal Performing Arts.