LAGRANGE – When Steve McKowen launched the Lakeland Jr./Sr. He sees a room full of potential in the high school auditorium.
McKowen, the school’s director of performing arts, first saw the magic of a live performance when he was still in elementary school. That evening he sat in the auditorium and watched his older sister perform. It’s a moment he will never forget.
“This place brings back so many memories,” he said, sitting in a seat at the back of the auditorium.
McKowen wants to expand the school’s drama department and decided to start a drama guild at the school. A guild, McKowen explained, would give more Lakeland students a chance to try out the performing arts and see if they, too, could capture a little of the magic McKowen did all those years ago.
The guild consists of about 30 students. They meet once a week after school and talk about the stage, performance and all things theater.
“It was well received,” McKowen said of the guild. “We improvised a lot and tried to get something going that shows me their skill and creativity in creating new characters. The goal is to help them think fast.”
Forming a guild opens the theater to more students. It creates the opportunity to introduce younger students to the theater.
“It’s open to junior high kids,” McKowen said. “I try to make age-appropriate material for both junior high and high school kids so they all have something to do. It worked well and is a great way for me to introduce theater to this younger age group.”
Now that it’s up and running, McKowen said his goal is simply to see the students in the guild grow into a tight-knit group of artists.
“I want them to be a real team. It’s a great way to reach creative kids and get them on stage,” he added.
Among his plans is for the Lakeland program to partner with organizations such as Thespians International Society, a theater honor society for middle and high school students across the United States. Its mission, according to the Society’s website, is to reward and encourage student achievement and to celebrate student work in all aspects of theater – performance and production. Both the Westview and Prairie Heights school theater departments are active in the organization.
McKowen admitted that getting the guild off the ground was a challenge
“It’s not easy to get a group of 30 kids together once a week during the school year,” McKowen said. He explains that many of his theater children are involved in many other extracurricular activities and it is sometimes difficult for them to find time for another organization.
“I gave them a lot of different ideas about what a troupe really is and they’re really excited about those ideas. But the kids I have are so busy with show choir, band, some are in sports, they’re all kind of into everything. That makes it a challenge,” he added.
With an existing guild, McKowen is now working to expand the program. This includes getting to a point where students compete against other theater students from across the state in theater meets.
“There are many things at a local and regional level that the children could take part in, but we didn’t do that. That’s something I’d like to see,” he said.
McKowen said he would also like to see the number of opportunities for students to perform on the Lakeland stage expanded and student-directed productions included.
“We have two traditional productions, the autumn play and the spring musical. I’ve been trying to get them to take on student-directed productions, too,” he said
In addition, McKowen said he would like the school drama department to reach a point where it can award letters to students for their involvement with the department, like the letters earned in other school activities.
“You know you can get a letter for the band, you can get a letter for the choir, you can get a letter for speeches and debates, but there’s never really been a letter for drama, so that’s kind of my goal.” , he explained.