BridgeUP: Theater in the Schools

The mission of BridgeUP: Theater in the Schools is to increase theater access and learning resources for rural and underserved youth throughout Vermont and New Hampshire through performative programs that bring artists into the classroom, support of curricular needs of underserved schools, and by introducing young people to theater through low‐cost access to professional productions. Special focus is given to areas classified as poor, rural districts and those with families below the poverty line. Districts with limited or no arts funding will be given access to resources that can shape how a student engages with learning and their community.

In 2016, Northern Stage launched Shakespeare in the Schools, an intensive month-long residency that brought professional artists into area schools to teach students the power of acting and performing the words of William Shakespeare. Each residency culminated in students performing one of Shakespeare’s plays on the main stage at the Barrette Center for the Arts. The first schools served were Dothan Brook School (4th grade) and Hartland Elementary School (8th Grade). The 2016 program, which served 73 students, launched without outside support and with only Northern Stage’s hope that Shakespeare in the Schools would deeply enrich students’ and educators’ lives. In 2017, the program grew to five schools and 164 students from a geographic radius that included the least funded districts in Vermont.

This year, thanks in part to the support of the Pussycat Foundation, Clint and Bonnie Swift, and Education Fund donors, Northern Stage has once again been able to expand the program with dedicated staff and resources, professional development opportunities for teaching artists, and enhanced administrative and production support. Now called BridgeUP: Theater in the Schools, the program is bringing 16 teaching artists into 8 area schools and is serving nearly 300 students over a broad geographic radius with a special focus on school districts where the arts are needed most. Additionally, the program has expanded to include the newly created BridgeUP: Musical Theater in the Schools. Schools served this year include Bluff Elementary School (Claremont, NH), Dothan Brook School (White River Junction, VT), Hartland Elementary School (Hartland, VT), Newbury Elementary School (Newbury, VT), Richards Elementary School (Newport, NH), Samuel Morey Elementary School (Fairlee, VT), Tunbridge Central School (Tunbridge, VT), and Westshire Elementary School (West Fairlee, VT).

In just a few weeks’ time, you taught our students the elements of drama, the difference between prose and poetry, and introduced them to iambic pentameter. But that is really only the surface of what you gave to these kids, and to us. You also taught them poise, how to speak in public, and how to take risks when things seem challenging.  You gave them a space where they were comfortable to try new things, to make suggestions, and to be creative.  But above all else, you gave each and every one of them confidence: confidence to be risk takers, confidence to try something difficult, and confidence in themselves. These are gifts they will carry with them for the rest of their lives.
~ 4th Grade teacher, Hartford, VT