Theatre — Theater kids without a school

Theater kids without a school


By Michelle Saturley

Group puts home-based learners on stage


New Hampshire has one of the biggest populations of home-schooled students in the country.

Each family has different reasons for choosing to home school but none of them want their children to miss out on the bonding experience created between kids and their peers. With this in mind, a group of parents in the greater Manchester area formed Brightest Heaven Theatre Company, made up of home-schooling students and their families.

“Brightest Heaven started as a classroom project to study Shakespeare,” said Gloria Nagel, founder and artistic director of Brightest Heaven. “It was a small group of home-school students in the southern New Hampshire area who got together to study A Comedy of Errors. We thought that the best way for them to really understand the characters and the language was to do a scene from the play.”

That was six years ago. Since then, Brightest Heaven has obtained nonprofit status and has become a working theater company, producing one full-length play a season. The troupe performs at the Adams Memorial Opera House in Derry.

“The Opera House has been very good to us from the start,” Nagel said. “They were welcoming and supportive of what we were trying to do.”

Though Nagel holds auditions for the roles in every show, she says no student who tries out is cut from the play.

“We find something for everyone to do,” she said.

The program has become so popular among home-schooled students, Nagel has begun a waiting list.

“I think theater and the arts are one area where some home-schooled students feel like they miss out on the experience a little bit,” she said. “There are lots of places in the area where home-schoolers can try out for plays or see plays, but this one is totally devoted to home-school kids. They have common experiences that are unique to them. I think that’s why our little group has become so sought after. We have kids from all over the area, from different towns.”

The rehearsal process lasts about 13 weeks, and is preceded by several weeks of classroom time in which students are encouraged to dig deep into their characters and the play’s plot and language. Nagel also takes liberties with the original text to make it more relatable to today’s teens and their everyday lives. Past productions include a modern day, Goth-styled version of Hamlet, a Western-style version of Two Gentlemen From Verona, and, most recently, a 1930s musical version of Love’s Labor’s Lost. For the show, Nagel added the music of Gershwin as well as other show tunes.

“I think there are so many benefits to being involved in the theater,” Nagel said. “These kids get a hands-on tutorial in Shakespeare — his use of beautiful language, as well as his ability to capture the human condition. There’s a reason why his plays are still timeless, hundreds of years later. During the production cycle, the kids are learning all about theater  — on and off stage. The students assist with directing, lighting and set design, stage-managing and even marketing. They gain an incredible amount of self-esteem and confidence. They learn how to work as a team.”

Nagel believes Shakespeare’s characters and storylines also help the students work out their own issues.

“When we did Hamlet last year, we talked a lot about teen depression and suicide,” she said. “And this year, with Love’s Labor’s Lost, we got into a lengthy discussion about what real love is, the difference between infatuation and lasting love in a real relationship. These are things that the kids will carry with them all of their lives.”

For more information about Brightest Heaven Theatre Company, call 483-2261

-Michelle Saturley

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