Published on February 17, 2021 by Ashley Smith  
Towers Johnson

Despite the challenges of COVID-19, theatre for youth seniors Anna Johnson and Chloe Tower were determined to find a way to incorporate international outreach into their senior project.  Both had a passion for bringing drama and dance to children internationally.  The director of the theatre for youth program Laura Byland had connections with Baosang Elementary School in Taitung, Taiwan and Johnson had spent several summers working with programs in Haiti. Thanks to technology and their creativity, they were able to successfully execute the project and connect with students in both countries.

“For this project, we focused on working with 4th-6th grade students in Taiwan and Haiti. Anna devised a nonverbal movement piece, and I led a class with the students to teach emotional awareness and movement. Our biggest goal for the project was to see an increase in the students’ emotional awareness and confidence after participating in the class and viewing the movement piece. The students completely met and exceeded our expectations and goals. In our survey we sent to the students after the class, 91% of students we taught said that they felt more confident and connected to their emotions. The interaction was truly a one-of-a-kind experience. The engagement over Zoom seemed daunting at first, but it opened the door to still teach internationally, which Anna and I were hoping to do pre-COVID,” said Tower.

Their team included Samford alumnus Ben Tidwell who created original music for the nonverbal movement piece. “We got to see Ben’s work while he was still at Samford, so we knew he was the perfect fit for this project and were so excited to work with him. We sat down and talked him through the project, the storyline, the characters, and the themes we wanted to get across and he was able to weave it all into a beautiful piece of music that was exactly what we needed,” Johnson said. 

The theatre for youth program combines all aspects of theatre but focuses on how drama can be used for education and provides students with numerous outreach opportunities while at Samford.

“To experience one of Samford’s theatre for youth foundational principles of community engagement with these young people was humbling, inspirational and profound,” said Laura Byland. “Because Chloe, Anna and Ben were willing to share their artistry, they have touched lives in ways they may never know.” 

Johnson and Tower both credit their curriculum to having prepared them for executing this project and next steps after Samford. 

“Since our freshman year, we have been in classes teaching us how to teach children using drama. We’ve done workshops and shows and masterclasses about how to use our artistry to engage and educate children. I was also given the opportunity to assistant choreograph for Ella Enchanted the Musical, which definitely helped me in choreographing our piece,” said Johnson.

 “Every single theatre for youth class that I have taken at Samford equipped me in some way for this project. The main idea for the project was inspired by our first Theatre for Youth Outreach class, where we taught creative drama in underserved communities. Every year since in the TY Outreach, we have taught students in schools or other community engagement projects. The amount of teaching experience we have gained, as well as my own love for curriculum development shows itself in this project,” said Tower. 

“Samford has given me an educational foundation and helped me realize what I truly want to pursue. Additionally, it has provided me a community of friends, project partners, and future connections that I hope to work with in the future,” Johnson said. “I hope to continue choreographing and diving into the world of nonverbal storytelling in many capacities. I will definitely continue working with children in dance and drama settings, as well as writing. I would love to see my story telling produced in bigger and bigger settings so they can reach even more underserved communities. Eventually I would love to pursue drama therapy so I can use my artistry and training to help children in need and offer them a creative release from the traumas of the world.”

“Samford has helped me gain confidence in my teaching ability, refine what I want to do post-grad, and given me the tools and connections to go out into the world to make a difference,” said Tower. “When I graduate, I hope to earn my MFA in Theatre for Young Audiences and become an education director or community engagement director at a children’s theatre. I believe that educating and training the next generation of artists is the most valuable job in the world, and I want to make sure that every student has the opportunity to experience the creative freedom and expression that comes from theatre making.”

Samford is a leading Christian university offering undergraduate programs grounded in the liberal arts with an array of nationally recognized graduate and professional schools. Founded in 1841, Samford is the 87th-oldest institution of higher learning in the United States. Samford enrolls 5,791 students from 49 states, Puerto Rico and 16 countries in its 10 academic schools: arts, arts and sciences, business, divinity, education, health professions, law, nursing, pharmacy and public health. Samford fields 17 athletic teams that compete in the tradition-rich Southern Conference and ranks 6th nationally for its Graduation Success Rate among all NCAA Division I schools.