Theater, by design, forces actors to empathize — to put themselves in someone else’s shoes. In a world often void of empathy, getting children involved in an activity that lays the foundation for compassion is an opportunity worth taking advantage of. The Aloha Teen Theatre (ATT) in Kainaliu offers a free theater program for teens ages 13-18. Under the direction of Engela Edwards, ATT encourages teen leadership through theater education, community outreach projects and public performance opportunities.
“Aloha Teen Theatre is fun and exciting,” said Edwards. “I use theater to teach leadership. The kids come to make friends; they come to test themselves and try something new. We have anywhere from seven to 15 teens, playing games, learning skills, and practicing for upcoming shows. I emphasize creating a safe environment, so the teens have fun while they learn and improve their self-confidence though acting exercises.”
In addition to learning leadership skills, the students also learn the importance of teamwork, creativity and how to think on their feet. They begin to understand the importance of body language and eye contact, all while making new friends.
With a degree in fine arts and drama, Edwards is a professional actor and director who owned her own theater company in Austin, Texas. Now a Hawaii Island resident, she enjoys sharing her knowledge of theater with her students.
“It’s my job to just create a safe environment where the kids feel free to try new things,” she said. “I see their self-confidence improve through acting exercises and performing in front of an audience. As a result, they usually do very well in their college interviews, because they’ve learned about body language, eye contact and how to think on their feet.”
Edwards sees many success stories from teaching the teen theater group. She describes one such student whom she taught last year.
“One of my former students, Lydia, joined the group wanting to do something she’d never done before, and also to challenge herself because she was shy,” said Edwards. “Not only did she experience being on stage, she also became vice president of the group, helping her receive a college scholarship. She brought her younger sister with her to the group, and this year, when I asked the kids why they chose to join the group, her younger sister said, ‘I thought I was interested in theater, but what was most important to me was my sister and I became really good friends. We’d always been sisters, but through coming to the theater class, we became really good friends as well.’ This is what theater is all about. It’s about making those human connections that will last forever.”
Aloha Teen Theatre meets 4:30-6:30 p.m. every Friday at Damron Hall next to the theater parking lot. The group is free and the registration form is available online at www. apachawaii.org/classes-workshops.