For some Island students, the end of the school day means the beginning of something they really love to do — spread their theatrical wings with M.V. Playhouse’s Winter Stars afterschool program. Designed for students in grades 3 to 8, Winter Stars lets young people explore all aspects of theater, with emphasis on working together as they develop performance skills — and they don’t need previous stage experience to sign up. (The playhouse also offers Summer Stars during the summer vacation.)
“I started Winter Stars in the fall of 2017,” artistic director MJ Bruder Munafo explained. “There was no afterschool program for drama on the Vineyard at the time, and it seemed like a good idea.” She said working with children and introducing them to live theater has always been a passion and focus of hers at the Playhouse.
A couple of Mondays ago, Munafo was there along with actress Katherine Reid, who led a group of mostly fourth graders through exercises and warm-up activities. If Reid walked like someone creeping up on someone else, all the students were behind her doing the same thing. When she told them to walk like “a very, very old person,” or to run around like “a little squirrel looking for acorns,” they knew what to do. As Reid explained “upstage” or “stage left,” they all scrambled to the correct spot. Her animated leadership seemed to make them at ease while they followed her directions.
Reid comes into the program with the perfect experience; she grew up attending the Playhouse’s children’s programs. “I myself am one of the results of our programming,” Reid explained. “I grew up in Playhouse children’s programs, attending Summer Stars every week that I could, playing roles on the main stage, becoming a counselor when I was old enough, and now working as a staff member and directing the children’s programming.”
Reid has a bachelor’s degree in theater, and said she met some of her best friends through the Playhouse.
For current students, the same benefits apply. “I like getting to know everyone,” 10-year-old Charlotte Bologna said. “I didn’t know everybody when I first came … and I like playing the games.”
Fourth grader Devyn D’Arcy said she enjoys the acting as well as the games. “You get to say things like ‘Honey, I love you,’ but you have to say it without smiling,” Devyn said.
Some of the students have been part of the Summer Stars program as well, so they’re used to the variety of activities at the playhouse. Reid sees programming as a great way to impart important skills.
“I’ve had students who, at first, are terrified to speak their own name aloud, and absolutely shine onstage at the end of a week,” Reid said. “I’ve seen children who could never get along in school find friendship and work together on their own devised performances. I’ve seen friendships forged and seen these programs inspire career and educational paths.”
Another benefit is that the students gain experience in following through with something, seeing a project through to completion.
“In addition to a sense of empathy and collaboration, I think children also derive a sense of the work ethic it takes to be a part of creative undertakings, and learn about what commitment to a project means,” Reid says. “When children are entrusted with learning lines for a part, or moving a set piece for a new scene, and are present at rehearsal after rehearsal, they learn how to commit to something and see it through to the end.”
Very real opportunities come along when Bruder is looking to fill a role for an upcoming play or musical. She has a batch of young talent ready at her disposal.
“We certainly would use children that have come through our programs,” Munafo said; “we have in the past.”
For more information on Playhouse children’s programming, visit mvplayhouse.org/theater/childrens-programs-2.