In January 2018, a small group of theatre, theatre for youth and education students will travel with faculty advisors to Jakarta, Indonesia to be hosted by the Yayasan Pendidikan Pelita Harapan. (Ypph.org) This is a network of Christian schools and universities that Samford’s president Andrew Westmoreland and his wife Jeanna have been associated with for many years. This Christian organization is dedicated to education programs that transform lives and provide global leadership.
According to Laura Byland, director of the theatre for youth program, “As theatre artists, we will be seeing the intersection of faith and art, as we work with Samford education majors to bring creative storytelling to life using the series: Simply B: Life Affirming Lessons Using Creative Drama. In addition, the cross-cultural art experience will afford Samford theatre students the opportunity to present short play sketches in a chapel service at the school, assist the education majors with ESL activities, and engage with village children in active drama game playing.”
The trip is part of a senior theatre for youth major Emily Pitts’ capstone project. She reached out to Byland to explore an opportunity to share the unique nature of the program beyond the Birmingham area. After several potential trips, the Indonesia experience came about through collaboration with Dr. Jeanna Westmoreland and Byland. Other theatre students traveling will be Xanthia McCaul, Madison Merkel, Claire Wells, Emily Willson, and Katie Beasley. Faculty advisors will include the Westmorelands, Dean Jeanie Box of Orlean Beeson School of Education and Byland, along with approximately 10 education students, including Mary Gurney who also works in the theatre department and theatre for youth sponsor Emma Taylor.
Theatre for youth is in its second full year as an accredited program at Samford. It offers students a dynamic environment to combine education, outreach and theatre. “Integrating arts into teaching is incredibly impactful,” notes Pitts. She explains that the interdisciplinary curriculum allows theatre students to break out of the traditional mold. The collaborative coursework embodies Samford’s “across campus friendship” model, according to Pitts. Other senior capstones allow students to produce and direct productions and work with Birmingham area agencies.
After September’s sold-out production of How I Became a Pirate, the theatre for youth program will continue to present smaller productions and interact with local schools throughout the year. Through the sponsorship of Emma Taylor, partnership with area agencies and schools and engaged students, it has experienced significant growth and interest over the past two years, and the future is bright for this budding program.