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Tuesday, April 19, 2011

What Do They Do in There?

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If your kid wants to join the drama club at school, you may or may not be enthusiastic. If you as a parent or a taxpayer have wondered how this supports an adolescent's educational goals, have I got a movie for you.

Let me be clear, I did not take drama classes in high school, college, junior high or summer camp. As an adult, you may have noticed, I am not a movie star nor a Tony nominee. In high school, my favorite classes were Physics and History. So all this drama coaching was about as pure a mystery and black box to me as it gets.

Then I wandered into a dark theatre on a beautiful spring morning and settled in to be taken on the journey of Florida high school kids working toward a statewide drama competition. Up until the moment the lights went out, my interest was, mmm, oh, theoretical?

It was the Phoenix Film Festival and, of course, I'm interested in the way cool movies by independents you get to discover before they get their distribution deals. "Thespians" was the first on the bill, so that's how I found myself in the audience.

Let me tell you, I wish I had heeded a Tallahassee newspaper's admonition to "be prepared to be moved."

It's a documentary and director Warren Skeels skillful story building brings us deep into the adolescent hearts before we even knew we were aiming for them. What the students--from four different Florida high schools in different parts of the state--learn through their drama classes is a revelation to a non-actress-wannabe like me.

In sports films, we usually learn about kids learning teamwork and persistence. We get that here, too. But from there on out, you might say the programs develop a set of reverse image skills. A sports movie typically has at least one gifted athlete being cradled through academic curricula. In "Thespians" we have one of the groups of kids as a set of ambiguously talented performers who off the stage are shown playing a highly sophisticated game used in colleges to teach international relations. Clearly, these boys are already smart. But what they learn on stage is to explore and grow comfortable with the life of emotions. In another school, a young lady eventually reveals she has recently gone through a horrible personal challenge. It is then easy to see how she is working out her healing and return to real life through her play-acting on stage.

One of the things that impressed me the most by watching "Thespians," was the relationship these drama and music teachers have to their kids. Since their curricula is so intensive into the life of the emotions, these teachers seem to create remarkable crucibles for the development of the adolescent character. If you want to see teachers doing a stunning job of nurturing good citizens who will one day be the presidents, senators and CEOs in charge of our world, find a venue that's playing "Thespians" and buy a ticket asap.

After the film, I was delighted when I was asked to pose for a photo with the film's director, Warren Skeels. That's us the in the lobby of the Harkin's Cine Capri above. I wish the best success for "Thespians"--and want to point out your school, PTA, community theatre troupe or any other type of group you may have that's interested in education, the arts, musical performance or drama, or adolescent development can arrange to host a screening. I would suggest you do it now, while you can stake a claim to major coolness, because the following for this fine film is sure to catch fire. I wouldn't be surprised if it gets snapped up for something big and the little venues can no longer get it.

I also look forward to the next film by Warren Skeels. He has a sharp eye for a story and a gift for subtle and light handed storytelling.

One last shoutout to Dan Harkins for hosting the Phoenix Film Festival. What a poorer place would Phoenix be without Dan Harkins' remarkable commitment to the arts and culture! His personal story, I've always thought, would make a great movie in and of itself. Maybe one day Warren Skeels will direct that. ;)

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