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Providence Theatre’s Schoolhouse Encourages Educators, Students
The cast and crew of Providence’s full-length production Schoolhouse have completed a very successful run of shows. Not only were the performances well-attended, but they also sparked audience responses that emphasized the relevance of the play’s themes.
The story is told from the perspective of a novice teacher, Miss Linton (played by Stephanie Fehr), who faces opposition from community members as she tries to help troubled student Ewart Rokosh find a place to belong. Ewart (played by Jeremy Segstro) has a mysterious past that causes the community see him as a threat and subjects him to bullying and exclusion from his schoolmates. Miss Linton helps Ewart to cope with the psychological damage that leads him to self-harm, and provides hope for a future of acceptance.
The play’s poignant depiction of the struggle to overcome prejudice and to practice inclusion is not only deeply Christian, but also coincidentally politically timely. Larger than average proportions of the evening public audiences, containing a large number of public educators, were moved to stay for the talk-backs after each show, in order to process what they had received. The cast and crew were able to discuss such questions as “Who would Ewart be in today’s high schools?” and to hear stories from people who taught in or attended one-room schools.
The production was staged by a cast of 14 and a crew of 32 comprised of students, staff, alumni, and members of the broader Providence community working since September. It was seen by 565 high school students and 620 people from the general public.
Ingrid Fast, a third-year theatre student who was double-cast as both Flossie and Millie Needler, says that Schoolhouse taught her a hard lesson. “It doesn’t matter what era you are in or what size of a classroom it is, there will always be people who feel left out, unaccepted and abandoned by their peers,” says Fast. “I believe that seeing this truth has taught me to remember to think before I judge. Accepting others can be difficult, but if I try, I too can make a difference in this world.”
Stage Manager Shannon Doerksen finds it particularly salient to be part of this production in an educational context. “Performing the play at Providence, I think, was uniquely meaningful, because it is a place that has contributed to the transformation of many lives,” Doerksen comments. “The setting of the play communicates the tremendous power of the educational context to facilitate redemption.”
Cast member Jeff Wheeldon shares Doerksen’s sentiment. “Participating in the play reminded me of just how important Providence is,” Wheeldon says. “Learning takes place in community, but it’s easy to forget just how important our relationships with each other really are. At the end of the play we are told that the message of the school bell is that ‘there is a place for you in this world.’ I hope that all of our students feel that, here under our iconic bell tower. I know I do.”
In the end, Schoolhouse reminds us that we all have the opportunity to make a place for the outcast, and that acceptance is among the best lessons an educational institution can give its students.
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