Young actors and actresses have a chance to hone their craft during a weekly Saturday morning workshop at the Hammond Branch YMCA.
Kids aged 3 and up can meet to do imaginative play, work on skits, and learn more about acting, said Gary Wilson, the director of the program.
On Wednesday evenings, a class is offered for special needs children to help them with their speech and self esteem, he said.
“We utilize their skills and personalities to give them attention and empower them,“ he said. “We put them in a situation where they don’t feel like they’re labeled as ‘special needs.‘ It’s empowering for them.“
Wilson is originally from Chicago and has been involved in the theater since the mid-1980s. He lives in Hammond and is will be directing “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” at the Genesius Guild at First United Methodist Church in Hammond in April.
In the Saturday workshop, children learn how to work on scripts and skits, but also learn how to prepare for auditions.
“We have lots of fun and play lots of games,” he said. “We like to find out what their interests are and go front here. We can tailor the program for their individual needs.”
The students put on productions as a group within the classroom setting, but don’t have a theater available inside the YMCA. Wilson said he is hoping the class will soon be able to put on productions in a theater space in Griffith.
“We’re working on building up our theater group a little more, and when we do, we hopefully will have a theater available to use when we decide to do so,” he said.
Parents are always welcome to either stay and participate or drop their children off and pick them up at the end of the 2.5 hour session, he said.
“When the parents participate in the workshop with their children, it helps build up their relationships,” he said. “I like to stress that a parent has to be a child’s number one fan. When they see their parents come in and see what they are doing, their self-esteem goes through the roof.”
The benefits of the theater program are amazing both for students in the Saturday workshop as well as the special needs class, Wilson said.
“It helps build character and confidence,” he said. “Everyone isn’t going to be a famous actor or actress, but at some point they’re going to have to stand in front of an audience. It helps build self esteem.”
For kids who might be on the shy side, working on the technical aspect of the theater, like making props or working with the wardrobe, engages them in a creative way.
“There are multiple avenues students can take,” he said.
Wilson said he is always amazed by the ideas of the students who come through the class.
“Their ideas are phenomenal when you present them with a situation and give them a little freedom with their imagination,” he said. “They come up with amazing ideas, and I just follow them.”