STANDISH — The Schoolhouse Arts Center is endeavoring to bring focus and direction to local teens through participation in community theater.

The Schoolhouse, a local community theater and educational organization, has occupied the old Standish high school building since 1989. More than 15 years ago, they converted a large second-floor room into a small theater space to supplement their main theater, which seats almost 150.

This small secondary theater was intended to accommodate smaller audiences for one-act plays, stand-up comedy shows and kids’ plays. A small stage was built and walls and floor were painted black. It became known as the Black Box, referring to the type of venue it was expected to become. But the Black Box saw little use except as a rehearsal area when the main stage was in use.

But in 2015, a few Schoolhouse teen performers rediscovered the Black Box and decided it would be a perfect forum for them to develop skills, not only in performing, but organizing, directing and presenting their own shows. They revived a theater club for teens known as the Black Box Teens, originally formed by Francine Morin in 2013.

They converted the old art room into a “green room” (dressing room) for future Black Box performances and painted folding chairs black to create a more professional look in the underutilized theater space.

But this was just the beginning. Their long-term plans for the Black Box included lighting and new risers. Those plans required additional funding.

In March 2016 the Black Box Teens organized and produced their first fundraiser, a cabaret-style show called “Truly Talented Kids.” The show was a success and generated more interest and support for the teen program.

One by one, new teenagers heard about Black Box Teens and joined the group. They began recruiting the support of adults who were impressed by their enthusiasm for the project.

In 2016 board President Cristina McBreairty took on leadership of the teen program as the group began to focus on their long-term goals. When a new lighting system was purchased for the main theater, the old lights were committed to the Black Box.

The teens’ enthusiasm for their Black Box Theater became even stronger. Local director Jerry Walker was impressed with the enthusiasm and determination of the Black Box Teens and helped them design a new floor plan. In January 2017 the original small stage was dismantled and lumber was reused to construct risers. This would enable the theater to accommodate larger audiences.

Eventually permanent theater seats, which the Schoolhouse has in storage, will replace the folding chairs. Throughout the project, the Black Box Teens pulled nails from old lumber, helped assemble the new risers and repainted everything black. The new layout provides more flexibility for the space and comfortably seats about 60 people.

Many of the Black Box Teens have grown up in acting classes and shows at Schoolhouse Arts Center. In addition to their work on the Black Box theater, many have taken on more challenging roles in recent main stage plays like “Brighton Beach Memoirs,” “Beauty & the Beast” and “Peter Pan.”

As their confidence on the stage grew, it led to a desire to learn more about directing, costuming, props, lighting and other technical aspects of theater. When the Black Box Teens are not on the stage, they are often seen at the back of the main theater running the lighting and sound systems. They help paint signs, build sets, organize props and assist with costuming for the main stage shows.

In 2018 the Black Box Teens number well over a dozen. They spent January and February planning their third annual “Truly Talented Kids” show. They conducted auditions and selected which acts they felt were best for the show. They organized rehearsals where more experienced members helped new teens understand how to polish their performance skills. They wrote scripts for their show narrators, Josh Macri and Reid Anderson. They choreographed dances and organized props and costumes that would be needed for their various acts. They painted signs for the show and designed and printed programs.

“Truly Talented Kids” will be performed on Friday and Saturday, March 30 and 31, in the newly restored Black Box Theater. Board member Danny Gay recently installed theater lights. This will be the Black Box Teens’ first time that “Truly Talented Kids” will be performed with the new lighting system.

The Schoolhouse Arts Center takes great pride in the Black Box Teens. But they admit that its success is mainly due to the energy and enthusiasm of the teens themselves. “All that we did was provide them with a place where they can focus their energies and build their own dreams.” says project sponsor Cristina McBreairty. “Then we just step back and watch the magic happen.”

For more information about the Schoolhouse Arts Center or the Black Box Teens, contact McBreairty or Black Box Teens’ teen advisor Ashley McBreairty at [email protected]

“Truly Talented Kids” in 2017


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