Service Learning: Theater Arts Group & CNIS

My STEP project was designed to support the theater program at Columbus North International High School. Their theater program was cut, and as a means of service, OSU students have been facilitating a program that promotes mentor-ship through theater. Specifically, I built multi-functional set pieces for the program while teaching students technical skills such as using standard tools.

While completing my project, I gained perspective on what opportunities I had access to, that many people do not. First, I had arts programs available to me throughout my life. Second, my family was able to teach my skills like how to use a drill, build things in a structurally sound way, and generally be comfortable with a variety of household skills. Many of the students I worked with did not have access to arts programs, didn’t know how to use a drill, or open a can of paint. On a more broad level, I also had the skills to reach out to administrators at CNIS for permissions for my project, where as many of the students at the school had never interacted with administrators or staff outside of their direct teachers.

My STEP project occurred in two phases. The first was a building phase, and the second was a painting and teaching phase. During the first part of my project, I had to go to a number of hardware and supply stores for materials to build the set. I had two distinctly different experiences during this part. The first time I went shopping, I went to a store a little farther from home, which advertised a wide variety of tools that I would need for my project. I explained what I was doing to the staff there, and they set me up with a representative who was excited to speak with me regarding my project, look at my designs, and walk me through many of the benefits of each type of tool. He explained how some tools would be functionally better, and some would be easier for me to use and walked me through several models to find the most comfortable fit.

For all of my supply outings, I went with my dad, as I couldn’t carry most of the lumber on my own, and it would speed up the process. Where the first outing representatives spoke to me, the second time, they only spoke with my dad. Store representatives¬†seemed to think he would have a better understanding of what would work, even though it was my project. Though this was not an initial issue I thought I would face, it was still an interesting perspective on how women are still not seen as capable or “handy.”

In the second part, I worked with students at CNIS to finish the set for their play, Among Friends and Clutter. It was interesting which students were more helpful. The set aspect was new this year, but the theater component is approximately three years old. Students who were seniors felt they could skip out and were notable less reliable in showing up to rehearsals. As a result, many freshman were cast in leading roles, and I placed a freshman as student stage manager because he was much more responsible and committed to the show. This was a surprise to me, because in my high school programs, the level of responsibility and expectations went up as you got older, and it was a reality check to remember that not all schools and programs have that standard.

This was transformative for me on a personal level. Theater has never been a career goal, but is has been a large part of my life. First, it was shocking to me what design skills and stru ctural ideas I had picked up just from watching people build over the years. I was able to recreate many set pieces using my own analysis without seeing the original designs for the pieces that I used for inspiration. Additionally, I didn’t realize to what extent my skills were not universal, and it was important to me to teach as many of those skills to the students as I could. Long term, I plan on going into nonprofit management. While it may not be in the arts, I plan on taking this learning experience to the workplace.

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