WWU’s youth program teaches theater, life skills

Dylan McGrew, left, Taylor Goforth have fun during the set design workshop for the elementary-level Summer Youth Theatre Institute in 2015 at WWU.
Dylan McGrew, left, Taylor Goforth have fun during the set design workshop for the elementary-level Summer Youth Theatre Institute in 2015 at WWU. Courtesy to The Bellingham Herald

Students from kindergarten through high school learn that “theater is a team sport” in Western Washington University’s Summer Youth Theatre Institute.

The institute will celebrate its 10th anniversary this summer under the direction of Deb Currier, an associate professor of theater.

“Under the direction of WWU student mentors, children learn life skills, how to work in a group, communication, focus, how to be generous and a lot more,” Currier says.

In other words, studying various aspects of theater arts, both from the standpoint of college students and younger children, goes way beyond learning lines and dreaming of fame.

However, you have to be a bit adventuresome — whether student-mentor or student, since Currier invites students to play scenes they might only have dreamed of.

“A couple of years ago, one of our surprises developed when we had three high school girls who were desperate to do a scene from Dr. Who (the iconic British science fiction program). So we had them directing three of our student-leaders as Daleks (strange beings with metal coverings),” she said with a smile at a fond memory.

On another occasion, “high school students choreographed our student-leaders in a musical number. I was in it, too.”

Eight to 10 WWU education students mentor two groups of students, with each student receiving plenty of attention.

Students in kindergarten through sixth grade — up to 35 in all — will learn theater arts from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. June 27-July 1, with a concluding showcase of scenes on Saturday, July 2, at 2 p.m. at Old Main Theatre.

Students in seventh through 12th grades — about 20 to 25 — will participate from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. beginning July 5 and will hold a showcase on Friday, July 15, at 7 p.m.

Currier anticipates there will still be openings in May, so she encourages parents and students to inquire. Cost is $250 for the one-week program and $350 for the two-week program, with partial scholarships available.

Currier, a theater-for-youth specialist, is also active in community theater as both director and actor. She holds a doctorate from the University of Oregon and has taught at Western 15 years.

She is thrilled to see growth in both school children and college students during the summer institute. Some of the student-mentors at Western came up through the institute.

“Our student-leaders receive a lot of intensive training for work with children. Our college students listen to the younger students and facilitate their interests,“ she says. “There’s a lot of cross-mentoring.

“Our student-leaders are often talking to children about the classes they’re taking and what college is all about, and they get hands-on experience in teaching theater arts to children.”

Currier and her students write scenes adapted from plays for youth, and everyone involved in the institute gets the chance to participate in any way they wish, on stage or back stage. The younger students are primarily involved in scenes, while the older students also can participate in monologues and songs if they wish.


For more information, go to wwu.edu/q/syti. Deb Currier can be reached at deb.currier@wwu.edu or call 360-650-2387.