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Quick and Dirty

If You Can’t Bring Art to the Kids...

By Christina Royster-Hemby | Posted 5/31/2006

A fundraiser for the Everyman Theatre will be held June 3 at the Reginald F. Lewis Museum at 7 p.m.

Arts education improves student performance and is extremely beneficial for low-achieving schoolchildren, according to the U.S. Department of Education. But in Baltimore, music, dance, and visual-art classes have been cut from school curriculums due to the financial problems of the Baltimore City Public School System.

For the last eight years, however, a 180-seat theater on North Charles Street has combated the lack of arts enrichment in nine Baltimore high schools and a handful of elementary schools by offering free educational-outreach programs. Through its High School Matinée Program, the Everyman Theatre has offered students at city high schools, including Western, Southwestern, and Baltimore City College, a chance to learn about and experience theater. The day before they are scheduled to give a performance, members of the Everyman company go to the schools and give students a lesson on theater. The next day they the students to see the performance at the theater, and the day after that they go back to the schools to talk to the kids about what they learned. Throughout the course of the school year, the students have an opportunity to see four shows at Everyman. The theater also runs on-site programs at select elementary schools, such as Falstaff and Cross Country, that expose younger students to the theater arts.

The Everyman has been dedicating 16 percent of its annual budget to the program, which amounts to $200,000 for fiscal year 2006.

“This is about helping students make connections between the curriculum in their school, the art that they experience, and how they see themselves fitting into the world,” says Roberta Wells-Famula, education director for the Everyman Theatre. For example, she says, students learning about a historical event, such as the McCarthy era in the United States, can connect to plays like Red Herring, which is about that time period. They can tie together “what they’re learning in the classroom and seeing in art,” she says.

Wells-Famula says that often those connections remain with the students, as she discovered last year during a fundraiser at the Maryland Institute College of Art. A Southwestern High School student, who was working for the event’s caterer, approached her. “‘You’re Roberta. I remember you,’” Wells-Famula recalls her saying. “And she started to point to all of the different plays that she had seen [at Everyman], talking about classics like Hedda Gabler and modern ones like Proof. ‘I loved [seeing] those plays.’

“It made me feel good to know that coming to the Everyman gave her magical moments that will stick with her for the rest of her life,” Wells-Famula concludes.

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