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WWU-led youth theater returning to Nooksack Valley this summer

The Nooksack Valley Summer Youth Theater Institute comes to Everson Elementary for eight days this summer, hoping to attract 40 students for an institute led by Western Washington University’s theatre education department.

“The main thing I hope the students walk away from this is having felt a really good sense of accomplishment and learning that the performing arts is a place where you can be accepted at whatever level you’re at,” says Deb Currier, associate professor theatre education Western Washington University and leader of the summer institute. “I want the kids to leave with a sense of wanting more of this. Theater is more than a fancy costume and big lights, it is not the stuff that covers the heart of the art, but the getting up there and doing the thing you think you cannot do.”

WWU has long run a summer youth institute — Currier has led the program since 2005 — but brought the effort to Nooksack Valley in summer 2018 as a pilot program to bring arts opportunities to Whatcom County outside of Bellingham. Now WWU is back for 2019 with six students hired to lead the local youth. Put in pairs, each leader grouping will take age groups from kindergarten through fifth grade.

“Last year was a great experience for my students as well as the kids who were involved,” Currier says.

As part of the eight-morning institute that starts Monday, June 25, and runs through July 3 — the cost has been reduced from the $150 it was when in Bellingham to $50 to make it accessible for more families — the upper-division theatre education students will apply the training they learn from Currier to the youth.

With the focus of an institute — not a camp or a large production — Currier says the time for students is about process over product. Each age group does workshops, as well as two age-appropriate scripts, directed by the WWU students. The workshops can include anything from performance technique to characterization or improv to costume and scene design. “They learn that theater is more than getting a script, learning lines and doing a show,” she says.

The final day of the institute does include each group performing their five to seven-minute story — every student who wants one will have lines. A big opening story involving every student is scripted and directed by Currier, a chance to “apply what they are learning in workshops to performances.”

The institute is open to all K-5 students. Sign-up information is currently available at both Everson and Nooksack elementary schools.

“It is amazing,” Currier says, “to watch the change in a short time in their self-confidence.”