Member Spotlight: The Drama Studio of Springfield
The Drama Studio is one of a handful of youth theatres in the United States that offers quality, range, and depth in its acting training programs. For Springfield-area youth, the Studio's conservatory program offers an unusual opportunity for training that prepares its graduates (all of whom are college bound) to enroll in university theatre programs. In recent years, Harvard University has accepted two Drama Studio graduates, and Emerson College and the University of Massachusetts have each accepted three.
The Drama Studio was founded in 1987 by Steve Hays, a longtime theatre producer in Springfield (he founded and managed StageWest, a LORT regional theatre, from 1967-1984), who understands the importance of the conservatory style approach to the acting training process. First, students learn and grow in their craft over a period of years through a series of acting classes offered sequentially from introductory to advanced levels. Among the offerings from the four-member faculty of the Drama Studio are Introduction to Acting; Advanced and Intermediate Musical Theatre classes; Improv Technique; Comedy; and Stage Combat. There are also a series of production opportunities for which students audition, rehearse, and perform. Plays are chosen to uplift the adolescent experience and range from Shakespeare and the classics to contemporary works, including those written by students (Drama Studio also offers a course in playwriting).
For many students, the “Studio”―as it’s affectionately known―is even more than a place where they train for the stage. It’s also a refuge where they can be completely themselves without fear of judgment.
“Kids come to us who don’t fit in at their schools,” says Hays. “For many of them it’s a godsend. We have many parents tell us if it weren’t for the Studio, they weren’t sure how their kids would have gotten through the public school system.”
- “The Drama Studio has taught me to take risks, look at things in a different perspective, and above all, love my way of living a little more.”
- “The first play I ever performed in was the Tempest in 2000. I was 12 years old, and this was the first time that I ever felt like I was a member of a community.”
- “[Our instructor] gave some students, including myself, a piece of helpful advice. He said, ‘You have to be willing to fail in order to succeed.’ … That one piece of advice has been ever so helpful to me in every aspect of my life.”
The school, which is one of MASSCreative’s newest member organizations, serves 250 students aged 6-18, all on a budget of less than $350,000.
As a longtime artist, Hays says that he knows the importance of arts advocacy. “I think it’s particularly necessary for those of us in the Western part of the state that aren’t physically near the State House to make our presence known,” says Hays, who attended MASSCreative’s Arts Matter Advocacy Day in March.
“The arts really can’t function without public investment. A lot of us work very hard on getting individual and business support, foundation support and I think it’s important for the government to be part of that mix,” he says. “When you look at the public schools and see the devastating things that have happened to theater and music, and how vital those opportunities are for some kids, you realize that the government does have a role. And that’s to make sure that if public schools can’t deliver the goods for whatever reason, that arts institutions have extra funds to provide those opportunities in our communities.”
In addition to its classes, Drama Studio reaches an additional 2,400 Springfield children with a robust outreach program called DramaTours, in which Studio students travel to area elementary schools to perform a 30-minute play followed by a 15-minute discussion. “It lets kids not only see a production, but they see kids their own ages performing for them, and perhaps get inspired that they could do it too,” says Hays.
Additionally, the Studio annually performs a children’s play at CityStage in downtown Springfield, giving local kids a rare opportunity to experience a full-blown production, including special matinees offered free to area elementary schools.
“As kids develop as human beings and they learn to work in an ensemble, they learn to take risks and express themselves emotionally,” says Hays, emphasizing that the benefits to Drama Studio students extend well beyond learning how to act. “They also take ownership of ideas, which they learn in the process of our curriculum. It’s a process of human growth and artistic growth. As they grow as actors, they also grow as human beings.”