This year marks 25 years of Playhouse Square's Education Department. Through the generous support of individual and corporate donors and foundations, and the tireless efforts of our amazing colleagues, the Education Department has offered thousands of events, workshops, classes and more, most with minimal or no fees, to people of all ages from all areas of Northeast Ohio.
To mark this milestone, we recently spoke with some of our colleagues from the Education Department to hear about some of the inspiring moments they have encountered through the course of their work.
It’s impossible to sum up into one moment the value of being part of the Education team. Instead, I am grateful to be blessed with 10 years of watching young eyes fill with wonder and amazement as they walk into our theaters, of hearing sincere words of gratitude from teachers for the curriculum support we offer, of seeing tension drain out of timid adolescents as they remember what it’s like to ‘play’ uninhibited. It’s an unbelievable joy to see how invested our students become in the shows they’re brought to see. Just last week, a young girl came to see Junie B. Jones and was concerned that the character had forgotten her bookbag on stage at the end of the show and worried she might miss it. She made sure to tell a teacher, a RedCoat, and even came up to the stage during dismissal to ask if I could make an announcement and let her know. I get to go home smiling at the end of the day knowing that we helped foster that kind of empathy.
In 2014, a young mother reached out to me privately on social media expressing how grateful she was that her daughter, who has Asperger's, was able to experience our Luminarium exhibit just before closing time. I still read her message from time to time as a reminder why we do what we do. She wrote, in part:
"Our time in the Luminarium was magical, and I will admit I felt those tears a few more times. I watched my daughter, mesmerized by the soft lights, running her hands along the walls. In the Luminarium, like all the adults and children inside, her spirit was free. She twirled in the colors and her eyes sparkled. It was beautiful... I needed you to know the happiness and peace you gave her today; and her mom."
I have two moments to share...
Our team was filming a short interview with a student participating in the Disney Musicals in Schools Program. When asked what she’d learned from the program so far, she shared “I’m normally a really shy kid, but being on stage makes me feel like a different person!” After we finished her segment, she was clearly interested in what we’d just captured, so we let her check things out on the back of the camera. I watched her tapping her cheeks while she watched. As she left she kept touching her cheeks, gleefully stating “I just can’t stop smiling”! That student performed front and center at Student Share.
Another moment that comes to mind is...
A principal of one of our Year 1 Disney Musicals in Schools locations shared with me an anecdote about a student in the program. She shared that last year he really struggled with not only engaging in school, but with even knowing what day of the week it was. She said that he would loudly and proudly walk in on their assigned rehearsal days sharing “It’s a Disney Day!” Not only did he know what day of the week it was, but he was thrilled to be there and be part of the program.
In a year when a school really needed a win, one of our Disney Musicals in Schools sites overcame incredible odds during their first year back in-person after the pandemic. There were many shifts to the cast due to unforeseen challenges, and as they pushed to their performance, they lost the “Cruella” from their Disney’s 101 Dalmatians Kids show with a week to go. A third grader who had been paying attention, stepped into the role and made it her own. She was fabulous, fashionable, sassy, and even dropped into the splits after her big solo! The sound that erupted from that audience of family, friends, and peers was cathartic, and I will never forget her grandmother jumping to her feet and shouting, “That’s my girl! You know you’ve got this!” It felt like a rallying cry for the whole community, and I am happy to walk past a picture of that triumphant moment every day on my way into work!
A massive round of applause to all our Education Department, past and present, on this momentous milestone. To donate to the Playhouse Square Education Fund please visit playhousesquare.org/education