By Brenna R. Kelly
Some mornings Frieda Gebert has to mop the floor before she can begin her drama class in the cafeteria at Boyle County Middle School. In the afternoon she moves desks in the high school classroom she shares with a psychology teacher.
When it’s time for her drama students to perform one of the more than 10 shows they produce each year, Gebert has to either rent an auditorium, make do in a cafeteria or perform the show outdoors.
“Boyle County does not have a theater, no auditorium, not in any of the five schools,” she said. “That has made it difficult to do the quality of work that I would like to be doing for these kids.”
For her first two years as the Boyle County drama teacher, Gebert also taught at the three elementary schools.
“The district believes that drama is important,” she said. “And the only way they thought they could get drama in the schools was to pay for one position that would do all the schools.”
But Gebert soon realized that she could not provide the quality of instruction she desired by serving all five at the same time. So she now spends mornings at the middle school and walks across the parking lot to the high school to teach in the afternoon. The three elementary schools now have after-school drama clubs and the middle school students frequently perform for the elementary schools.
“I thought we would raise the quality doing it this way,” she said. “And I think we have, it’s been very successful.”
The middle and high school now each produce between three and six shows a year, she said.
But without dedicated classrooms and a performance space, Gebert has to make do.
“I have learned to have performances in cafeterias, we do touring shows that I can take anywhere,” she said. “We just have to be really creative.”
This past fall the students performed in a cemetery. The play “Spoon River Project” is an adaptation of an anthology of poems written to be performed in a cemetery or a theater.
“It was so cool,” she said. “We had kids popping up from behind headstones and just kind of walking through the cemetery and ending up in front of the audience telling their stories.”
Gebert also decided to stage a radio show so her students could perform it in the gym with microphone stands.
About once a year the program rents the Ragged Edge Theater in Harrodsburg, a 15-minute drive from the school. Earlier this month, the high school performed “Sister Act” at the community theater.
Kentucky Department of Education Academic Standards Coordinator Kyle Lee commended Boyle County for its dedication to providing theater education, noting that arts programs aren’t judged on their stages or auditoriums.
“Great programs are about the people involved, the hard work displayed and the story being communicated, not the number of seats available,” he said. “Although it always helps, a nice facility does not ensure a quality arts opportunity and experience is occurring.”
Boyle County High School also won praise from NBC for its pursuit of a quality theater program. The school recently won a $10,000 grant from NBC through the R.I.S.E. (Recognizing and Inspiring Student Expression) America program. The school was one of 50 high schools in the U.S. to get the grants, which were a partnership between NBC and the Education Theatre Foundation (ETF), a nonprofit that supports theater education.
Students created a video about their theater program and wrote a 500-word essay explaining why they should receive the grant.
“We were the only winner from the state of Kentucky,” Gebert said. “I was really proud of my students.”
And at least some of her students will get their wish. Boyle County Schools is building an auditorium as part of its new middle school. The district began construction in January on the $30-million middle school, which is slated to open for the 2019-20 school year.
“Our students are getting a lot recognition and gaining self-respect for their work,” she said. “We really are building momentum.”
Gebert hopes the new space will allow more students to experience the performing arts while in middle school and high school.
“I think that drama makes a difference,” Gebert said. Many students who don’t seem to fit into a particular group like athletes or band, end up in drama. And some of those students who might be into other activities find that drama benefits them also, she said.
“I think kids find their own voice in theater,” she said. “They are able to talk publicly and civilly about what it is they think. I’ve seen so many kids, if not saved by drama, at least they have found a whole new confidence in themselves – and sometimes a calling for a career.”
MORE INFO …
Frieda Gebert Frieda.Gebert@boyle.kyschools.us