Breckenridge Backstage Theatre provides drama outlet for elementary and middle school students

Elementary school students in fourth and fifth grade participate in a KidsPlay class session hosted by the Breckenridge Backstage Theatre. The KidsPlay offerings were recently expanded to allow more age groups to participate.
Photo from Breckenridge Backstage Theatre

The Breckenridge Backstage Theatre sat largely empty in 2020 as performances were canceled when the COVID-19 shutdown hit in March, but in September, the Breckenridge Backstage Theatre board decided that kids needed an outlet, and the KidsPlay program was brought to the theater for elementary- and middle-school-aged students.

Breckenridge Backstage Theatre Treasurer Laurie Rambaud said that while the group has run a kids program for years, KidsPlay didn’t happen this summer due to pandemic concerns. It was ultimately reinstated in the fall for a wider age group.

“What we found is the kids are absolutely dying to get out. We get a lot of kids that are choosing to go fully online or especially after weeks they’re in quarantine they come to the theater jumping out of their skins,” Rambaud said.

The program offers three sessions that focus on developmental stages of the age group Rambaud said. The first session is for grades one through three and introduces children to improvisation concepts. The second session is for grades four through five and focuses on building confidence through improv games. The third session, which is for middle school students, focuses on monologues — longer sections of dialog performed by a single actor. Rambaud said that a middle school group is new for them.

“Everything is onstage, but a lot of it is public presentation skills that are huge,” Rambaud said. “The increasing confidence is a really big factor, especially in grades one through three of, ‘Hey, I haven’t been around kids especially since the quarantine.’ That’s a large part of their lives so being comfortable in a social setting, and there’s an awful lot of programmed interaction with everyone, so it’s not just your closest friends but the other kids in the program.”

Rambaud recounted how the doors of the theater were suddenly slammed in March, and she said there were no summer camps due to the lack of clarity in the COVID-19 guidelines and due to teacher concerns. However, later in the fall, Rambaud said board members voiced that kids needed a way to get out of the house and away from screens to socialize with one another.

While team sports activities have helped get kids an outlet, Rambaud said there were fewer options for kids who are more interested in drama, and this program is meant to provide a space for them. She added that the program is also providing parents with a bit of child care.

Most of the KidsPlay participants are from Breckenridge Elementary School and Upper Blue Elementary School, Rambaud said. While parents aren’t allowed in the building due to capacity limits, videos are made of the kids during the program to be shared with parents.

Anna Dudick, a Breckenridge Backstage Theatre board member, said the program provides a much-needed community benefit for local youth, noting that payment for the program goes toward only the cost of the program.

“I can speak for myself and other parents, my peers, that any opportunity there was to get the kid out of the house and safely participating in something besides a screen was paramount,” Dudick said. “We’ve suffered from some mental health issues in Summit County, and so we had a board meeting, and we were just going to go dark 100%, and I said, ‘I think there’s an opportunity here.'”

Dudick called programs like KidsPlay that are bringing youth together in a safe environment a “saving grace” for the community.

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