I woke up last Sunday feelin’ a little off. Winter, in all its splendor, can also cause a bit of depression for some folks and I was in the throes of doing research on Seasonal Affective Disorder (S.A.D.) looking for antidotes, prepared to spend the day immersed in the moody blues. Checking online I discovered that “Seasonal Affective Disorder is a type of depression that occurs at the same time every year. If you’re like most people with S.A.D., your symptoms start in the fall and may continue into the winter months, sapping your energy and making you feel moody.” (www.mayoclinic.com )
Fully prepared to spend the day wallowing, I decided to inform the world of my woes on Facebook, and noticed a message waiting for me from gal pal Bunny Woloszczak. “Come over to the Villa Roma,” it read. “See more than 800 theater kids from all over New York State doing what they love. It’s an amazing sight.” Still committed to depression, I wrote back. “Wish I had known earlier, but I’m in no mood.” Unwilling to give up, Woloszczak persevered. “You must!” she insisted. “We took over the entire resort (www.villaroma.com ) with hundreds of workshops. Three schools from the county are present—Fallsburg, Eldred and Tri-Valley. If you miss this, it will be a shame.”
Steering away from the S.A.D. research, I investigated Bunny’s claim. The New York State Theatre Education Association (NYSTEA) was new to me, and I scanned the page. Aside from announcements about the conference, the website said that “NYSTEA believes theatre is an essential part of education for all students, developing abilities needed for the 21st century such as creativity and innovation, critical thinking and problem solving, communication and collaboration.”
My frown turned upside down as I read on. “Flexibility, adaptability, initiative, self-direction, productivity and responsibility” were highlighted as developmental plusses for participants. Impressed, I jumped in the truck and zipped over to Callicoon, NY. Mobs of students were everywhere, making their way to the nightclub, where closing-day ceremonies were about to commence. Stepping over the threshold, I heard a familiar voice. “Jonathan you made it!” grinned Justin Glodich, district vocal and theater teacher in the Eldred Central School District (www.ecs.schoolwires.com ). Glodich was one of the 100 chaperones, keeping up with his kids. I caught up with three of them, Krissy Morgan, Kayla Carcone and Marissa Martell, all of whom enthused as we made our way to the event. “It’s awesome,” Krissy shouted above the din. “We’re learning so much,” Kayla yelled. “And making new friends,” Marissa added, as they melted into the crowd.
Fallsburg High School senior (www.fallsburgcsd.net ) Adam Dohrenwend spotted me and waved, and I stopped for a moment to chat. “I’m so excited,” he said. “I’m directing one-acts at the Rivoli this summer for the Sullivan County Dramatic Workshop.” (www.scdw.net ) When asked if he planned to pursue a career in theatre, Adam shook his head. “No, but this experience is invaluable. It builds confidence, is incredibly fun and it keeps me out of trouble,” he winked, before moving on to catch up with his pals. Even though the place was mobbed, I found Bunny, who was with fellow chaperone Jim Schmidt, and Fallsburg teacher Ellen Pavloff, and I spied Tri-Valley’s (www.tvcs.k12.ny.us ) Regina Hartman preparing to take the stage to give away raffle prizes.
I sat with some of the kids and quizzed them about their experience. Fallsburg’s Melissa Roberts told me, “You get to see how other school programs operate,” and Elizabeth Loarca (who is planning on medical school) claimed that she likes “being immersed in a group of nonjudgmental kids.” Nodding their heads in agreement, others joined the conversation. Classmate Amanni Sitz aims to be involved with film production, saying, “There are so many workshops for techies. I’m learning so much about how it’s all done.” Sixteen-year-old Ilyssa Weiner chimed in, claiming a desire to pursue a broadcasting career, but added that “this conference is helping me build confidence, something that will carry over into all facets of my life.”
The list of workshops included “Comedy Sports,” Garbage Bag Costumes,” “Dance for Non-Dancers,” “Hand to Hand Combat,” and “History of the American Musical Theatre.” Educator Pavloff said, “The kids are kept busy every minute. The conference is structured without ever feeling that way. Teenagers need that, and I’m amazed by the ‘free-to-be-me’ atmosphere that pervades. The weekend provides a safe space for all students, regardless of race, religion, sexual orientation or sense of style.” Looking around the nightclub, Pavloff became misty-eyed. “For a lot of these kids, this is the most important part of the experience.” As I scanned the crowd, I recalled the NYSTEA motto, “Theatre Transforms Lives,” and I couldn’t help but agree. Future doctors, lawyers, teachers and actors were cheering, hugging and crying as their transformative conference was drawing to a close. Thrilled to have the opportunity to put S.A.D. on hold, I observed two friends hugging. “I’ve never felt this happy!” one whispered to the other. Kids (IMHO) say the darndest things.