At the final performance of the most recent Young People’s Theater Workshop summer session and celebration of the program’s 25-year anniversary, Patsy Dew and Myrna Johnson were awarded the Making a Difference Award by Penny Hillemann, co-chairperson of the Northfield Healthy Community Initiative.
The Healthy Community Initiative provides various methods of support for a multitude of healthful behavior programs throughout our local communities.
Young Peoples’ Theater is a program for children ages 8-18 that was started by Dew and Johnson in the summer of 1991. Its focus is to encourage creativity, confidence and community through the development and production of theatrical productions over the summer months.
Each summer, two sessions (of three weeks each) begin with a theme and end with a play. Every kid is on stage, needs to memorize lines, learns to dance, etc.
Along the way, kids are taught about the history of theater, choreography, singing and other musical skills, cooperation, and the importance of committing to work together to get the job done (“If you don’t know your lines, you’re letting more than yourself down.”).
With as many as 70 participants in each session, the students are organized into age-specific groups. Morning sessions are devoted to teaching theater skills (kids learn the tools); afternoon sessions focus on the planned production (kids practice using the tools they’ve just learned).
The older students (often repeat students from prior summers) serve as mentors for the younger groups. This winning structure has stood the test of time and has allowed for one-on-one attention and generates cooperation around the common goal of a well-done performance at session’s end.
The teachers clearly state their high expectations: Show up on time; pay attention; work together; and have fun. The days are full and fly by in a hurry.
Lifelong friends are made. Many of today’s teachers were students just a few years ago.
Dew and Johnson realized their vision of a successful program by their tight organization, high expectations and enthusiasm for learning and for theater, a legacy that has been carried on by current YPTW Director Bob Gregory-Bjorklund.
Over the years, some 1,200 children have participated in Young People’s Theater Workshop. Many have done so year after year and have returned over their college summers to serve as teachers.
Indeed, Dew and Johnson have positively affected many lives. They have truly made a difference.
-By Tim Hogan
Tim Hogan is a retired MD who serves on the board of Healthy Community Initiative.