Former theatre director: Save the arts in Bristol Warren

Posted 5/7/21

Editor's note: This letter from a former Mt. Hope High School theatre director and teacher was sent to East Bay Media Group, as well as members of the Bristol Warren Regional School Committee, on …

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Former theatre director: Save the arts in Bristol Warren


Editor's note: This letter from a former Mt. Hope High School theatre director and teacher was sent to East Bay Media Group, as well as members of the Bristol Warren Regional School Committee, on Friday:

Last night I received news that the Bristol Warren School Committee voted to eliminate the theatre department at Mt. Hope High School, as well as two music teacher positions at the elementary and middle school levels. Words cannot adequately express the disappointment and sadness I feel for the many students that this cut would effect.

As an alumna of this school department, and the former Mt. Hope Theatre Director/Teacher from 2015-2018, I know the theatre department at Mt. Hope provides an essential arena of creative exploration and a home where fellow misfit artists benefit from radical empathy and productive joy. Furthermore, this academic program encourages studious practice and artistic excellence in which all its members take great pride. Perhaps that explains why it ranks among the highest in Rhode Island, as evidenced by awards earned at the Rhode Island Drama Festival as recent as 2019.

Art enthusiasts seek out the Mt. Hope Theatre Department on purpose, while other students find it by accident. I can’t even count the times that the latter became the former after just a few class meetings. Students who may have otherwise fallen through the cracks find a safe place to land and, furthermore, prosper in theatre classrooms. And the reason for the phenomenon is clear. In a world of disconnection, theatre challenges everyone to dream, listen to one another, and to connect to what is human in all of us. Theatre encourages everyone to speak up, and at times shout and sing out. As students come to find their own voice, theatre teachers inspire confidence in that voice, while further encouraging teamwork and problem solving skills. Theatre offers a place to be loud and a place to learn the value of silence. A theatre education is essential to countless well-rounded individual students and, by extension, the larger culture at Mt. Hope High School. The benefits of a program such as this one are priceless.

As Mt. Hope theater students ready for their return to a “normal” school year, imagine their angst over learning that their home at Mt. Hope High School, where they act, dance, explore, connect, and feel safe, no longer exists; that members of their school committee voted it away. If you are all truly the leaders you’ve been elected to be, I can’t imagine that this decision would sit well with you. The repercussions of uprooting this program could be irreparable.

In closing, I remind the School Committee that the Mt. Hope Theater Department has grown from an extracurricular activity to an academic education that has prepared Bristol and Warren students for top collegiate theatre programs across the country, and productive careers in the arts. Not only is that a testament to the legacy of theater educators past and present such as Claire Frye, Marianne Douglas, Carol Schlink, and Nick Mendillo, all accomplished artists in their own rights who propelled this program forward, but also to the commitment of two communities and their school committees who remained steadfastly supportive of arts throughout the decades. I would like to also stress that the excellence of performing arts that this school and larger community have come to love requires performing arts education that starts young, and demands the adequate music staffing in elementary and middle school that your committee has also sought to cut. As you read through all of the outpouring of community support being sent your way, please consider the passion of our responses a testament to the power of performing arts education at a young age. Your decision here will affect generations to come in this community. Please, let the show go on.

“I regard the theatre as the greatest of all art forms, the most immediate way in which a human being can share with another the sense of what it is to be a human being.” -Oscar Wilde

Britney Verria


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