BSU Drama students gain work experience with the help of Northside Middle School

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When David Hereno was in high school, he considered himself a shy person, and had difficulty socializing and making friends with his peers, he said.

When he started participating in the theater, he immediately immersed himself in the experience of the novel and felt part of the group.

Now, as a third-year theater education major, Hreno dons the principal’s hat to a group of middle school students at Northside Middle School, and puts on his own shows. Together with Megan Templeton, a third-year theater education major, the two are doing the same thing for Northside students: building a community for them to thrive in.

Ball State Theater Education (THEDs) students complete their elementary training with the support of MCS schools surrounding Ball State University. In the case of Hreno and Templeton, hands-on training is achieved by co-directing Northside’s spring show.

This year’s Northside Spring Show is The Adventures of Stuart Little, a stage adaptation of the children’s book by E.B. White. It follows the titular character through his youth and adolescence making friends, avoiding the family cat and adjusting to life in New York as a 2-inch-long mouse.

There are about 15 middle school students acting in the play, with five more making up the tech staff, moving stage elements and manipulating lights to set the right mood for the actors to portray their characters. Hreno said that one of Hreno and Templeton’s goals is to build a small community of the cast and crew, so they can feel comfortable and confident around each other.

He said, “We’ll usually have them play a little warm-up game at the beginning of rehearsal, so they have this opportunity to practice their acting skills while having fun as a group.”

Just as basic practical training is part of the THED curriculum, first and second years are required to participate as production assistants and assistant directors, respectively, in middle school shows. It’s a way to prepare THEDs for their initial practicum in their third year, Hreno said.

He and Templeton are co-directors of the spring show, and they’re joined by five members of Ball State THED: an assistant director and four production assistants. With directors at the helm, each THED contributes to the show according to its chosen specialization.

For example, production assistant Clarence Davenport handles costumes for middle school actors, while Mia Tolley, assistant director, serves as set designer and decorates stage items used by the actors. Northside students answer to Ball State students, whichever role they find themselves in.

“We’re doing our best to allow [the Northside kids] I know we’re great, but we’re also here to work and put on a show,” said production assistant Bryant Lewis. “We all set an example for the kids.”

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Sophomore of THED Mya Tolley draws two model boats for the Spring Show on April 3. As an assistant director, she is working with Hreno and Templeton to develop the spring show but is yet to immerse herself in every aspect of directing it. Miguel Naranjo, DN

Templeton said that even students who are not assigned to produce as part of their curriculum are invited to lend a hand at the invitation of THED working on the show. While she was painting the background elements for the show, Tolley invited three of her friends to help her, none of whom were majoring in theater education.

Templeton said, “The Ball State Theater department as a whole is a really close-knit community, and we find it fun to take on each other’s projects and do what we do together.”

Classes such as THEA 150: Introduction to Theater Education and THEA 295: Teaching Methods are examples of other classes that are lessons to mentor a young cast and give them a quality theater education, Templeton said.

As principal, she and Hereno aim to teach Northside students “a little bit of everything” when it comes to acting, including memorizing lines, proper intonation, and stage presence.

Although it is part of their studies, Templeton and Herino are proud of their work on Northside and find it rewarding to mentor middle school students, Herino said. They said seeing the students open up and come out of their shells is the part they enjoy the most.

“Seeing them come up with silly jokes as a group is so much fun, and we always like to make it a part of the show if it works,” said Hreneau. “The way they treat each other as friends has a way of bringing back the inner child in me.”

Both Templeton and Herenu recognize this as a stepping stone on their journey to becoming theater educators. For their fourth and final years as THEDs, they have secondary internships — also known as student education — lined up at two high schools in Indiana.

“We’re not just going to direct plays when we’re students studying,” said Herino. “We will also be teaching English lessons during the school day unlike what we do at Northside. I am so excited to have my own theater classroom one day.”

While the Ball State students who work in the spring show are supported by the Department of Theater Education, they work with only one Northside faculty member serving as a liaison between them and the Northside students. However, Hreno and Templeton see it not as a problem but as an opportunity.

“We may not be working with as many people on Northside, but it also means we have more creative freedom to put our show on and teach the kids everything we can teach them,” said Herino. “We are grateful that they trusted us enough to give us that freedom.”

Contact Miguel Naranjo with comments at [email protected] or on Twitter @naranjo678.