They venture every week to nearby middle schools to shape the minds of young thespians; teaching choreography, singing and acting and inspiring students-—all while maintaining a semse of order. They are Samo theater students, volunteering every week at Lincoln Middle School and John Adams Middle School (JAMS), in order to assist in the production of the schools’ yearly shows.
Each year, the Lincoln and JAMS theater departments produce an entire play or musical starring middle school students. This year, JAMS is producing an adaptation of the 1971 musical “Grease” and Lincoln is producing the comic operetta “Pirates of the Penzance.” Starting last year, students from the Samo Theater Department have mentored middle school theater students every Monday and Wednesday after school at both JAMS and Lincoln.
To become involved with the volunteer program, Samo theater students first submitted an application to Samo Theater Director Kate Soller. According to Soller, four students were chosen out of approximately twenty applicants to become mentors.
“I sent in an application listing my previous experience and expressed my passion for directing and sharing the joy of the process,” Lincoln volunteer and Samo junior Raven Bennett said. “I think I appreciate being in their position and the value of having a mentor.”
During the sessions every Monday and Wednesday from 3:15-5:15, the high school volunteers help out with everything from maintaining order to teaching the middle school students the choreography by taking on roles such as acting coach and stage manager.
“Thea and Raven have been wonderful assets to the program, and it is my aim that they grow as teaching artists and mentors during their time spent with us,” Lincoln Theater Director Chad Scheppner said. “They are given opportunities to speak with the Lincoln students about their experience as students of theater at Samo, and also work as instructors of performing as well as the technical aspects of the theater. Raven has been acting as an acting coach to our leads and Thea has been spending most of her time acting as our stage manager and will really take over the show once it is opened.”
According to JAMS Theater Director Dana Murphy, the mentoring program allows both the high school and middle school actors to learn more about theater.
“I think what’s great about [the student mentors] is that they’re also in the process of learning about theater, so they’re really eager to teach it,” Murphy said. “They’re really excited about it and they teach it, and it helps them understand it better too. It also gives them an opportunity to keep learning about theater and something they’re interested in through teaching it to kids.”
Furthermore, the student mentors help expose the middle school students to their options in high school theater.
“I think that they greatly impact our students on several levels,” Scheppner said. “They have the opportunity to relate to the Lincoln students in a way that their older teachers, myself included, just cannot. The Lincoln students will be entering the world of Samo theater very soon, and our mentors help inspire each of them to attain the personal excellence that will be asked of them when they make this leap.”
According to sophomore JAMS volunteer Chloe Chagaris, the program allows her to inspire students to continue acting later on in life, despite the obstacles they may face.
“I like the responsibility of actually doing something,” Chagaris said. “It’s a good experience and I get to work on my acting. I think when [the students] look at someone [who is] so passionate about so many things, they kind of get an idea that it’s [possible] to act and do okay in school at the same time. I think it will help them ready themselves for the bigger challenge they have ahead.”
The program has inspired students like JAMS eighth grader Zoe Moench to continue acting in high school.
“Originally, I was going to quit acting because I didn’t think I had enough time to do it,” Moench said, “but this is just really fun and I want to keep doing it. I definitely want to join the Samo theater program.”
According to Soller, the most valuable part of the mentoring program is what each individual student takes away from it.
“[With the mentoring program], the middle school students get somebody with more theater experience, they get someone who’s older and they get the inspiration of somebody who has more background in theater to help them with it,” Soller said. “For some of [the middle school students] it may just be that [the mentors] are older and they get to hang out with an older person and have a mentor. It can be inspiring, it can keep them on track, it can give them motivation to do better and it’s something that they can look forward to a couple times a week.”
Ultimately, according to Bennett, students volunteer for these positions to expose the middle school students to different aspects of theater and hopefully encourage them to continue theater in high school.
“The most fulfilling part of mentoring is when kids come up to me and express their interest in high school theater,” Bennett said. “They tend to be very enthusiastic and curious. I remember how awestruck I felt when I went to high school, and it makes me happy to see them have the same feeling.”