Why kids need the arts | Editorial

Thanks to dedicated instructors and independent funding, Orcas Island students have been given the opportunity to explore the world of theatre.

I sat in on a rehearsal for “The Tempest,” which is being presented by the Theatre as Lit high school class at Orcas Center in the black box. Directed by Jake Perrine, the April production is the culmination of the public school course, which has been co-led by teacher Val Hellar. Last year, the students put on a “Midsummer Night’s Abduction.” Funding for the program comes from the Orcas Island Education Foundation.

There are so many facets of this that I love: the kids are learning Shakespeare, the most influential, beautiful writing in the history of humanity; they are overcoming speaking in front of an audience; and they are being exposed to the magic of the performing arts. Watching them rehearse, the students were fully engaged and passionate about material that is complex and nuanced.

The curriculum for this year’s class has revolved around gender roles, the masks that people wear and the definition of masculinity and femininity. The students wrote and performed monologues about “a time when you felt like you needed to wear a mask.” In talking about the experience, Hellar was overcome with emotion, saying it was the bravest thing she has ever witnessed in her career.

Can we digest that for a moment?

A group of teenagers wrote about their vulnerability and then shared those stories with a group of their peers. For those who question the merits of the language arts to inspire growth, please take heed. By fostering empathy, self awareness, self confidence and introspection, we are creating a better society.

Thank you to the Orcas Island Education Foundation for funding this fantastic program and to Perrine and Hellar for teaching. Most importantly, thank you to the students for being open to new, scary experiences and willing to share their talents with the community.