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Middle schoolers try out acting chops in theater club

First-year club part of after-school program

It was 15 minutes of three short scenes in the cafeteria of Kelloggsville Middle School. Just a dress rehearsal with a couple of teachers standing in for student-actors who couldn’t make it that day and a small audience of students and staff.

But for those on stage, it felt like Broadway.

Afterwards, Hector Martinez, a seventh grader, spoke for his fellow thespians.

“It was scary but happy at the same time,” Hector said. “I learned it is scary to be in front of a big audience but also really fun to be with your friends. I felt like I was going to mess up, but it was fun.”

The students were part of an after-school theater club at the middle school, and the sets that served as their cafeteria backdrop were created by the after-school art club. Though schools closed days after the dress rehearsal, these and other clubs provided students with creative opportunities this year that may bear fruit for them in the future.

The students did not write the scripts but did help pick them out. One included fairytale-land FBI agents trying to get past Puss ‘n Boots and the Billy Goat to speak to the sneaky seven dwarfs who are being held for stealing jewels.

Another featured friends in the desert and a magical water-bottle genie who grants them each one wish. The problem is the last person wishes for all of her friends to come back because she is lonely, and then they are all stranded in the desert without any water again — at which point they chase her off stage.

For the dress rehearsal, “her” was science teacher Heidi Doherty, who led the theater club with language arts teacher Megan Holmes, while art teacher Shannon Shultz guided the art club.

Classmates watch as, from left, teacher Megan Holmes and students Hector Martinez, Alaina Sherman, Alondra Preciado and Caden Terrell act out a skit about fairytale-land FBI agents trying to speak to the sneaky seven dwarfs, who are being held for stealing jewels (courtesy photo)

‘Every Teacher Has a Little Bit of Theater in Them’

Doherty said she was happy to lend a hand because she both enjoyed the performing arts as a student and because she directed several plays over the years at another school district before coming to Kelloggsville. Holmes, though not involved in theater as a student, was a dancer and has volunteered with various plays and musicals.

And, Doherty added, “I think every teacher has a little bit of theater in them. Teachers are on stage every day as we try to engage our students in all of the curriculum areas.”

Both Doherty and Holmes said they think it’s important to expose middle school students to the arts and especially theater.

“Theater is a creative outlet,” Doherty said. “It allows kids the chance to step into another character as they also become aware of body language, vocal intonation and expressing different emotions in a safe and fun environment. It is an opportunity for students to come out of their shells.”

Student Hector Martinez agreed.

“I’ve always liked seeing performing and acting on TV,” he said, “and now I might want to do that someday. We worked hard and everyone was happy to be there.”

Sixth grader Makenna Thocher was in the after-school art club that made the backdrop for the theater club skits, and she echoed Martinez.

“I love art, and I am trying to get better at it,” she said. “What I did for the backdrop is I helped with cutting the cactuses and the walls of the prison and much more. It was amazing how much time it took to do the backdrop and how the work paid off.”

Busing Students to Clubs, Tutoring

School Principal Beth Travis said the coming together of the theater and art clubs was a magical moment, one she hopes will be replicated in the future.

“This is our first year having a theater club,” she said. “With small numbers the idea of mini-skits gave the students the experience of performing but on a smaller scale. The art club created the backdrops while the theater club worked on the performance part. These experiences will hopefully help students gain an understanding of the high school programs they can join as they get older.”

Travis notes that Kelloggsville Public Schools ran free after-school programs this year for students in first through eighth grades on Tuesdays through Thursdays. The district provided the clubs and tutoring as options, plus a snack and transportation home. A bus made stops around the district to pick up any student involved in the clubs or the tutoring program.

The clubs were a big hit this year, Travis added, including such offerings as karaoke club, board game club and book club. All told some 20 students attended tutoring and the clubs drew another 15 to 45 students per day.

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Phil de Haan
Phil de Haan
Phil de Haan covers East Grand Rapids and Kelloggsville and is the lead reporter for Grand Rapids. He hails from Exeter, Ontario (but has called Grand Rapids home since 1985) and is the son of a longtime public school teacher who taught both English and machine shop. Phil took both classes at South Huron District High School, but English stuck, and at Calvin College, where he met his wife, Sue, he majored in English and minored in journalism. His background includes both journalism and public relations, including teaching an advertising and PR course at the college level for almost a decade. In the summer of 2019, he began his own writing and communications business, de Haan Communications. In his spare time, Phil plays pick-up hockey and pickleball and tries to keep tabs on his two adult children. Read Phil's full bio


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