Testimonial #10: Holly Stanford, Theater Education Practitioner

How has your life been indelibly touched by a teacher who utilized the arts for whatever reason and acknowledge how they were instrumental in breaking the mold to allow you to become who you are today?

I was greatly influenced by an English teacher in my high school. She took on the school drama club and invested 100% of herself into the process, allowing herself to make discoveries along with us, and treating theatre as a mechanism for not only learning, but for us to discover confidence and self-worth.

Before I became involved in the arts, I was a shell of myself- introverted and lacking confidence emotionally and socially. This teacher witnessed my demeanor change as I threw myself into the roles I played and encouraged me to stay with the arts- that I “could be a pro”. Now, although I have not become a fully-fledged professional in theatre, her vote of confidence in my abilities drove me to study the art intensively in college and then in graduate school where I trained to teach students, and to encourage them the same way I had.

It only took one teacher’s use of the arts to change the entire trajectory of my life, and I am so glad she did. I have met so many more amazing teachers and professors of theatre since then, and have learned more from my involvement in the arts than in any other school of thought.

How are the arts re-igniting your community and sparking innovation and creativity in your local schools?

When I came home on a summer break from graduate school in New York City I worked tirelessly to give high school students across the region the same option that younger students had. It was unfortunate that at 14 or 15, you aged out of the arts- I remember feeling so sad after my final year of the children’s theatre group. After developing a pilot program over a few months prior to summer 2011, and working alongside a local prevention agency known as Mountain View Prevention Service, Inc., we had a plan, the funding and a cast of students from seven area high schools.

Every part of this summer production was like magic- the students were excited, hard working and wonderful, and the great network of local organizations that provided both financial and moral support was heart-warming. I am so glad that there has been a growing appreciation for the arts in our community since this summer. Students who lacked confidence in their own school productions were able to shine for the first time. I recently revisited one of the participating schools and many of the students who had participated in the summer program were up on stage again! It’s amazing to witness their growing confidence and the willingness of educators in the school to support the arts, and the desires of students to be involved in theatre.

I do hope that the high school program pilot I worked to create will be offered again for future seasons. The program is wonderful for students, especially teenagers to have a positive and constructive activity to commit to while school is out of session. It is also my desire for area schools to consider the value of theatre alongside other art forms in their school budget- if more schools could offer not only plays, but holistic theatre education for students; I feel that it could only further enhance the student experience both socially and academically. Theatre teaches valuable and realistic lessons in communication, dealing with various types of personalities, working on a budget, how to lead and follow in group situations, learning how to deal with the hand you were dealt, and good old fashioned hard work and how it will eventually lead to something great.

With an ever changing society, isn’t it important for us to instill these very important lessons into our youth? Theatre is so much more than an extra-curricular activity. I would not be the same without it, and the teens in our community are begging for the chance to be a part of something so much greater than test scores and the occasional school play.

150 150 Frances McGarry