As an International Thespian Officer (ITO,) I plan to advocate for theatre in the lives of underserved students. I made my theatrical debut in kindergarten as a bat in my school’s production of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. I attended a Title One school in Aurora, Colorado, with a BIPOC population of 98 percent, a 96-percent eligibility for free and reduced lunch, and a large enrollment of first-generation Americans. To say that each student was facing adversity is an understatement.

What I remember most about my experience at the school was the sense of community we felt when a touring children’s theatre came to put on the production of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. A majority of the participating students had not even had the chance to see live theatre, let alone have a role in bringing it to life. I remember the encouragement that kids grades kindergarten through eight gave each other, the dedication to work through language barriers, the incorporation of different talents and attributes, and getting the chance to express ourselves through storytelling. I was given first-hand experience in witnessing how impactful and unifying theatre and artistic expression are.

Peyton Locke Lyons

Peyton Locke Lyons
Troupe #717
Fayetteville High School

ADVOCATING FOR THEATRE IN OUR SCHOOLS

Theatre education has a significant impact on students. It affects the emotional intelligence, social well-being, academic achievement, and development of all who participate. As per the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001, the arts are a core academic subject that helps to contribute to “improved student learning outcomes,” and helps to “close achievement gaps between students.” And yet, in many underserved communities and Title One schools, this education lacks financial and institutional support. Lack of access to theatre education in the lives of underserved students denies them from having the tools they need to reach their full potential.

As an ITO, I hope to increase awareness and recognition of the need for theatre in schools. I’m working with the ITSLC to get Theatre In Our Schools month (March of each year) recognized in states across the country. We will also work toward the goal of getting it recognized at a national level. I will communicate with government officials and U.S. Department of Education members to discuss how they can support theatre education.

Finally, I hope to work to provide resources for troupes in Title One schools, so that they can have access to information and education that may be unavailable to them.

BEING YOUR AUTHENTIC SELF

The biggest lesson being a member of the International Thespian Society (ITS) has taught me is the power of authenticity. In almost every aspect of life, we are encouraged to put up a farce, convinced that being authentically ourselves will leave us outcast. Because of the Educational Theatre Association’s “People Matter” core value, the ITS is a place where every student is invited to be authentically themselves, and their individual talents and attributes are used to collaborate on something special.

I’ve found that allowing myself to be authentic in this risk-safe space has been an influential experience. By being myself I’ve been able to unlock talents, discover passions, and experience amazing opportunities, such as being an ITO and State Thespian Officer (STO).

In addition to the way we present ourselves, authenticity has power in storytelling. Last year, I had the opportunity to participate in my troupe’s one act, Lift Every Voice by Riley G. Mills and Prince Roc. The play, which is based on a true story, explores the impact of racism in high school. Our director, Xavier Davis, was very intentional in both his casting and in the conversations we had, to guide the story to be as authentic as possible. Because of this, the message was very powerful. We showcased at Arkansas Thespian Festival and were met with a standing ovation and really great discussions after the show. I’ll never forget the energy in the room and how, at the beginning of the show when the Black National Anthem played, almost everyone in the audience stood.

Being authentic gives you power. I will carry this lesson with me for the rest of my life, both in the way I present myself to others and in the way I perform and tell stories.

SPARKING CHANGE

Performing has been a big part of my life for as long as I can remember—from reenacting Hannah Montana scenes on my fireplace mantel to now pursuing theatre as a career. My favorite thing about theatre is that it sparks conversation, breaks barriers, and allows people to view topics from a new perspective. It truly sparks change.

Student activists

I’m also very thankful for those who have supported me as an artist and activist. My mom has always been my biggest inspiration. She has worked in the education system for my entire life, and it is truly inspiring to see the work she puts in to cultivate supportive environments for students. Jason Burrow and Trevor Cooperescue have also been incredible inspirations in my life. They are wonderful educators and amazing theatre artists, who have worked to support me and other students in individual growth. Theatre educators are superheroes!

I am incredibly thankful for the opportunity to serve as an International Thespian Officer and AR State Thespian Officer this year and am looking forward to advocating for theatre’s place in our schools.

Contact me!
plyons@schooltheatre.org
Instagram: @peylocke

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