“I learned to treat others better” remarked one third grader from Pocahontas County after seeing an Old Brick Playhouse Touring Show.
The Old Brick Playhouse Company, a non-profit theatre based in Elkins, is about to begin their 23rd elementary school tour. Together with the West Virginia Department of Education and the Arts and the West Virginia Division of Culture and History, The Old Brick Playhouse creates a new play each year exclusively to tour elementary schools throughout the state. The company has long toured shows to elementary schools reinforcing the state Department of Education’s focus on themes such as drug abuse prevention and anti-bullying.
In 2009, The Old Brick Playhouse was awarded the Coming Up Taller award from the National Endowment for the Arts, The National Endowment for the Humanities and the Institute of Museum and Library Services as one of the top Arts Educational programs in the nation. Since 1992, the OBP team has performed for a cumulative audience of over two and a half million students. The OBP has also provided specialized programming to military bases and private schools nationally. Additionally, the Old Brick Playhouse has been merited at the Edinburg Festival Fringe in Scotland, the National Theatre in Washington, DC and won the Martin Luther King Jr. Holiday Award for educational programming.
Studies indicate that bullying is an urgent issue, based on the negative impact it can have on entire schools. Increased student aggression affects both cognitive and moral development, academic adjustment, resiliency, and adaptive behavior for adolescents. Early intervention and exposure is one method that has proven successful in decreasing the number of bullying situations in and after school. The most basic building block essential to anti-bullying effort is to make certain that students have a strong sense of self-esteem.
OBP creates a comprehensive educational experience with its touring shows. Each participating teacher is sent an activity guide prior to the performance. The activity guide provides vocabulary words used in the performance that are central to the topic. “For example, one important term in a bullying situation is bystander” says Old Brick Executive Director, Missy Armentrout-McCollam. “ Kids need to know a bystander’s role in such an incident so they know how to respond accordingly if they happen to be a bystander.” The activity guides also provide class exercises that prompt students to come up with their own ideas about the topic. “Our goal is the prompt conversations about topics such as tolerance and bullying” states Armentrout McCollam –“ the earlier students understand the dynamics of a negative situation, the earlier they are prepared to deal with them in real time.”
Each performance involves student interaction and uses audience input in guided brainstorming portions of the performance. “All of our performances purposely provide channels for students to interact with in the course of the show. The most powerful moments often arise when students reveal their own perspectives,” says Old Brick Playhouse Assistant Director Phil Smith. “Sometimes we are blown away by the profundity and careful reflection students share during our performances. The more students, teachers, and parents join together in awareness on bully prevention, the less likely these incidents are to occur. In our show, we not only address the students being bullied, but also the bully and the bystander – so everyone feels hopeful for positive change.” The Old Brick Playhouse has toured shows to every county in West Virginia and extensively throughout the Mid-Atlantic region.
This year The Old Brick will tour two shows, The Groovy Moving Show – A Garden Fable, and available in January, Textitude.” Normally, we only tour one show says Armentrout McCollam, but several schools wanted to host The Groovy Moving Show last season and could not due to the local weather chaos. We wanted to give those students the opportunity to experience that show as well.” The goal of The Old Brick Playhouse is expose students to live performing arts, give them a chance to laugh together, and most importantly provide tools for treating each other better. For more information or to schedule a performance at your school, phone The Old Brick Playhouse at 304-637-9090.