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Theater enhances Demopolis High curriculum

A few dozen Demopolis High students gathered in the cafeteria after school several days this week to practice their roles for Hairspray.

The popular musical is the latest to take the Demopolis High stage for a theater program that has grown to involve much of the school’s student body.

“We have everybody. We have football players, basketball players, dance line, cheerleaders. We really have everybody involved. And we have some kids that this is the only thing they do,” DHS theater teacher Jody White said. “That’s one of the challenges because a lot of the kids I have are involved in everything. I think because of the thematic nature of the arts, kids are able to see the big picture.”

The theater program has grown in recent years, expanding to include a trio classes in addition to its extracurricular activities.

“The intro to theater (class) is basically just a history of the theater and they learn about improvisation and pantomime and the history of the theater. They do a lot of drama activities,” White said. “There is Theater II Acting. They focus on the craft of acting and character analysis. And that class does a play every fall.”

While the elements of acting are clearly covered by the department, the curriculum also includes courses appealing to the more artistic students.

“Theater II Design, that is really exciting because we just added that this year,” White said of the newest class in the department. “They learn about costume design, set construction and all of those elements of scenic design.”

The theater program has grown in popularity over the years at DHS and other schools around the country. White believes the sweeping appeal of the art correlates to its innate penchant toward self expression.

“I think a lot of it is about finding a way to express yourself,” White said. “Almost reverting back to something you did as a child that you aren’t allowed to do anymore. You’re able to get to continue to imagine and pretend.”

White remembers her high school theater program catering to many of the same needs for her.

“It just kind of filled a niche. It was something that, all of a sudden, I had an ability,” White said. “When I got into theater and I found that one thing that clicked with me, it really helped everything else.”

Aside from cultivating a love for theater and similar arts, the program also incorporates a number of skills and lessons from other academic areas.

“One great thing about it is that we often study things that students are already studying in another class,” White said. “There’s a lot of the transfer of learning across the curriculum. The arts spark an interest in kids that a lot of times other courses don’t do. I think because it incorporates all of the fine arts, it is the ultimate collaboration.”

White said optimizing the role of such arts in school curriculum was made possible largely through an Alabama Black Belt Arts Education grant.

“That really helped us get trained on how to integrate arts into the curriculum,” White said.

Theater students will get to show off some of their acquired skills over the few weeks as they perform a dramatic reading of The Glass Menagerie at the Demopolis Public Library Saturday, March 26 to help celebrate the 100th birthday of Tennessee Williams. Hairspray will debut during an April 6 matinee and run through April 10.