We live in a time when the importance of arts education, theatrical or otherwise, can’t be stressed enough, something which Debra Kierstead of the Hamilton Homeschool Players understands.
“The list of benefits of being involved in drama and theatre performance is extensive,” she tells me. “From the basic memorization skills, verbal skills, oral presentation, public speaking, to improvisation, creativity, group skill development, general people skills and team building skills.
“There’s so much more than just acting in a play. I think being a part of such things when they are young creates lifelong memories, skills, and enduring friendships.”
Kierstead has been running the Hamilton Homeschool Players for roughly four years, and has been running similar homeschooled youth drama troupes for thirteen.
“We have a great homeschooling community in Hamilton,” she tells me, “with Facebook groups, co–ops. Classes, regular gatherings and more. I post to groups, but most of the youth I have now learned of us through word of mouth. I have over twenty kids in my group this year!”
This, apparently, has included all four of Kierstead’s own children.
“My children were spaced far apart,” she clarifies, “so I did groups when my older two were younger, then restarted when my younger two were at a good age for it.”
Indeed, her now 17–year–old son is handling the technical side of their current production, an adaptation of C.S. Lewis’ The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe. Though this is hardly uncommon, as Kierstead explains that the tech booth is entirely the domain of the youths themselves.
“They help with almost all aspects of production,” Kierstead elaborates. “They help with props, costumes, set design, backstage, tech, and some years they help with making tickets and programmes. They also help sell tickets.”
They even get the final say on which plays they produce, with Kierstead providing options for them to vote on. Which is how they settled this year on the most famous of the Chronicles of Narnia series.
“The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe had overwhelming support,” she tells me, adding with a bit of a smile: “My first choice was a Sherlock Holmes play, but once a Narnia play got into their heads, I was done for.
“I think they like this play because it’s fun and interesting with a lot of great characters, like Mr Tumnes the faun. And, of course, it has a big battle scene, which is one of their favourite parts — getting to wield swords, and carry daggers and bows and arrows.”
This of course does present some challenges, but none that can’t be overcome: she notes the “limited resources” in constructing the sledge of the White Witch, but stresses her excitement at how the kids have built it within those limitations.
Which is what matters most at day’s end: giving these young people the opportunity to be creative and to grow within a supportive artistic environment.
“I’ve witnessed the progress of individual kids over the years,” Kierstead says, “starting off shy and tentative and taking on small parts, becoming confident and taking on lead roles. To watch the kids develop over the years and see the transformation is wonderful to witness, and it’s so awesome to see how taking part provides them with the skills and support to do this!” V
The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe
Written by: C.S. Lewis
The Hamilton Homeschool Players
Playing at: The Staircase Theatre
27 Dundurn St N, Hamilton
Showtimes: May 24 @ 7pm;
May 25 @ 1:30pm & 7pm
Box Office: See the event calendar
at staircase.org for details