Since the mid-80s, Deborah Asante, founder of Asante Children’s Theatre has been crafting youths into actors and singers. The theater company provides contemporary entertainment, but the path to the stage and the skills garnered from acting and public speaking offer much more for participating youngsters.
Asante is well-known for her productions, and is once again entering into an exposure program for kids ages 6 – 12 in theater arts called Prep 4 Life also known as ACT Prep.
“This program is the start program – it’s about exposure. Even if you don’t want to be a performer or that intensely involved, Prep is a place for you to get your feet wet and stand up in front of people,” said Asante. “(Kids) need to feel that their voice is important enough to be heard and worthy.”
Ryan Bennett, lead facilitator of Prep 4 Life, said classes began in 2002, as a transportable drama camp, which familiarized the world of performance art to kids in a summer camp setting. Today, classes are offered during the school year and introduces the basics of storytelling, acting, poetry, physical movement, concentration and diction.
“We employ age-appropriate ‘page to stage’ techniques, storytelling, spoken word/poetry, acting and writing in journals. Our goal is to help each child achieve their personal best,” said Bennett.
“Prepsters” receive numerous hours of skill development workshops during Saturday morning meetings. Additional weekdays are added as they near the end of the program.
“Kids typically demonstrate improved verbal skills, self-respect and respect for others through ensemble building and teamwork toward a common goal. Because of the movement coordination activity, they also learn the benefits of healthy food choices and daily physical movement,” added Bennett.
Jocque Carey, also a Prep facilitator said Prep 4 Life is considered a ridicule-free zone and through games and exercises, each individual is encouraged to come out of their shell and be vulnerable. At Prep, kids can let go of their fears and train themselves to be comfortable in front of others.
“Every time I see a kid take a leap forward, I feel a sense of inspiration,” said Carey.
Most importantly, Prepsters also receive a healthy dose of responsibility, commitment, confidence, self-esteem and self-reliance.
Michelle Anderson’s grandchildren, Anthony Cheesebourough, 8; Jodeci Majors, 12; and Lael Majors, 11, are Prep 4 Life students. Anthony and Lael are naturally outgoing and excelled quickly. They have not only mastered Prep 4 Life, but were invited to participate in a production by Freetown Village, another local theater company.
For Jodeci, although she had the desire to be on stage, she clammed up in front of an audience. Anderson said it took Jodeci a few sessions to “find her voice” and now she sees a difference.
Despite their varying levels of comfort, Anderson said her grandchildren didn’t have discipline and maturity. She has seen great changes in their confidence.
“For all of them, this gives them the opportunity to do something outside of themselves. They can be something more,” said Anderson. “Anthony used to be this little kid that ran around and now he’s a young man that walks taller and is a leader in his classroom. Jodeci, she has this newfound grace and poise about her. Lael has found her ability to stay focused. This program has been a wonderful experience.”
Asante is preparing for the fall session of Prep 4 Life from September through December. No audition is necessary. The cost is $100 and orientation/registration will be held Sept. 17 from 10 a.m. to noon at Christamore House, 502 N Tremont St.
Also under the Asante Children’s Theatre umbrella is the Asante Academy, which will hold auditions for singers and dancers for an upcoming play on Oct. 3, and the Asante Touring Company.
Asante has been working with Indianapolis youth since 1989 and said that year after year she sees tremendous talent. She has since developed Asante Children’s Theatre into what it is today (a professional theater organization committed to preserving the tradition of African and African-American performing arts) and takes pride in giving youth a safe platform to grow and become empowered.
“When I was a child, I was as potent of an artist as I am right now, but did not have the avenues to speak and develop that. I wished for someplace where people could see and hear what I was thinking. I would second guess myself and say ‘I’m not that important, I’m just a kid.’ Someone should have said ‘come here little girl, you got something to say? Let me help you,'” said Asante.
She believes Asante Children’s Theatre does just that – help talented youth develop their perspective and confidence to speak more boldly.
For more information, call (317) 297-0020, email P4L@asantechildrenstheatre.org, or visit www.asantechildrenstheatre.org.