WALDOBORO — The Waldo Theatre (916 Main St) is currently running an in-school program, InterAct, for local elementary schools with plans to expand into the fall of 2022. The goal is to provide quality theatre arts education that reinforces academic learning goals, such as reading comprehension and oral language skills, while also addressing vital social emotional skills, such as confidence, communication, and connection with the community.

The program was designed by Mia Branco, who has worked as a teaching artist for over 12 years specializing in developing drama programming for students with autism and emotional trauma in independent settings, as well as within schools. In the fall of 2021, together with Kate Fletcher, The Waldo’s executive director, Branco began running the program in two local third grade classrooms, at Warren Community School and Miller School in Waldoboro.

The 2021 education program was made possible by an initial $3,500 grant from the Onion Foundation. The Waldo has since won two competitive grants to be able to bring the program to several other RSU 40 district schools that have expressed interest. A $9,650 grant from the Nellie Leaman Taft Foundation and $10,000 from the Maine Community Foundation Maine Expansion Arts program will fund in-school programming through the fall of 2022.

Lead Instructor Mia Branco with a Waldo Theatre in-school program student.

Branco and Fletcher hope to build a sustainable program to reach more students. “It is such an important opportunity to emphasize critical thinking, communication, and connection with community,” said Branco. “The Waldo has such an amazing ripple already, after only seven months of being open, and these kids have a place in that theatre as part of a family.”

A culminating presentation by the Miller and Warren school third graders at The Waldo was planned for February, but, due to current COVID-19 conditions, a filmed version of their stories is now taking shape. The final film will be shared with students’ families and teachers.

“We’re hopeful that we’ll be able to safely gather this spring for a community screening of the students’ work,” said Fletcher. “They have put a lot of creativity and imagination into their stories, and we want to share these and celebrate them.”

The curriculum Branco designed for the once a week in-school program emphasizes storytelling, and empowers the young actors to tell their own story as an ensemble using the “four tools you have with you at all times — body, voice, mind, and imagination.”

Waldo board member Christa Thorpe said the board’s commitment to inclusivity and youth programming was what attracted her to the mission of the theatre, which had been closed for over five years when she joined the board.

“I want people to know that when you support The Waldo, you’re doing so much more than keeping the lights on in a historic building,” said Thorpe. “It’s about supporting incredibly talented people like Mia who are helping Kate rebuild the community around The Waldo. It’s about the kids and also the rest of us lifelong learners. That’s what excites me about this education program and the possibility of more things like it in the future.”

For more information about programs at The Waldo, including live theatre, live music, films, and education, and to make a contribution, visit www.waldotheatre.org.

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