“Empower”ment Through Theatre Arts!

Having been born and raised in a small, rural town, my access to performing arts as a child was limited. Aside from singing and occasionally acting out Bible stories at my church, there weren’t very many opportunities for me to participate in preforming arts locally. My small town has no community theatre, and until last year my high school did not even have an auditorium.

However, my parents did everything they could to make sure I was able to pursue my passions, often driving me to neighboring communities. Even so, the productions were often rewritten to include fewer roles because of the lack of participation from others my age. I vividly remember, multiple times throughout my childhood, dreaming of what it would be like to be in a show with a full cast, a real stage, and a sound system. I wondered what it would be like to experience “real” theatre.

The organization I worked with this spring semester, Empower Preforming Arts, ensures that students within Rankin County never have to feel the way I did. Both of my brothers joined Empower after Christmas and completely fell in love. Each week they would tell me about what they’d learned and how much fun they’d had at their classes. My Mom, who was a theatre major in college, also began teaching some classes and was asked to direct a show. This meant that every single time I talked to one of my family members on the phone or came home to visit, all I heard about was Empower. I didn’t understand why this was all my family could talk about, until…

I tagged along to one of the practices for my younger brother’s show, which also happened to be the same show my mom was directing. Ten minutes into their practice, I knew that this organization was exactly what I had prayed for and dreamt of for so long! The cast for Belle and That Beast Guy was comprised of students ages 9-12 of all different talents, shapes, abilities and sizes. Both my mom and the other instructors guided the students in acting, singing, dancing, and performing in general. I knew that night, though I was past the age (preschool-12th) of participating in the program, I felt led to serve as a volunteer.

For the next few weeks I attended practices for the Empower spring showcase, in which there were five shows and two musical theatre performances. At practices I often read for students who were not present and helped direct staging. The majority of my service, however, occurred the weekend of the showcase. With there being five separate shows all within the same day, as one can imagine, the organization of sets, props, and costumes had to be very mechanic. I spent an entire Friday learning how to change one set to the next, when to give a wig or a hat on cue, and how to do everything that needed to be done quickly and efficiently. The day of the show, dressed in all black, I moved sets, wired mics, photographed the cast during their rehearsal times, and assisted in any way I could.

Through this experience I learned sometimes watching from side stage as others shine in the spotlight can be even more rewarding than feeling the warmth of its glow on your own face! It was such a blessing to watch and help out as such a beautiful mixture of students found joy, community, and acceptance within theatre!

All photos used here are photos which I captured of the performances.

Blog post author Kenning Bridges has completed her first year as a Luckyday Scholar. She is majoring in political science.

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