We Are Westridge
A community blog featuring Head of School Elizabeth J. McGregor, the Westridge Leadership Team, our esteemed faculty members and occasional special guests
A Parent’s Reflections on the Westridge Theatre Experience
by Upper School Parent Laura Olinski
I’ve marveled at the Westridge theatre productions over the last four years, feeling they are a perfect illustration of what Westridge teaches young women: be brave, take risks, find your voice, have a growth mindset. Having a daughter who has participated in theatre for many years, I know firsthand that this program is different in that the performance itself is merely a happy consequence of the process that precedes it…the unseen hours of audition and rehearsal that lead to the girls quite literally finding their voices.
This rich program teaches important lessons and skills that perfectly reflect the Westridge philosophy:
- Students fill a broad range of non-performance positions including Production Stage Manager, Assistant Director, Dramaturg, Assistant Stage Manager, and Assistant Costume Designers through which they hold significant responsibility and learn important leadership skills. The girls learn to lead.
- A variety of genres from musical to play to Shakespeare offer opportunities for performance, technical crew, and design, which together allow the girls to explore different characters and genres and challenges them to make strong choices and thus come to better know themselves. The girls learn to explore possibilities.
- The audition process is more supportive than competitive, and the girls celebrate one another’s achievements. Together the girls form a tribe who support and care for each other, recognizing the importance of collaboration and strength of the ensemble. Each rehearsal ends with the girls reinforcing a cast mate’s performance or behavior, causing them to notice and acknowledge the efforts of others rather than themselves. The girls learn the strength and importance of collaboration and ensemble.
- Opportunities to move outside their comfort zone, such as playing a male character or learning to engage in stage combat, are embraced in the safe, supportive, and trusting environment that has been created. The girls learn to take risks and attempt things they didn’t think they could conquer.
This terrific program reflects the mindful and caring oversight of Director of Theatre Laurie Riffe and her team of five theatre professionals who mentor students in every aspect of theatre production. They show the girls that creative expression comes in many forms, and that they can be anything they wish to be. The tremendous growth of the program over the last four years is a testament to the girls’ enthusiasm for and trust in this team. Even with a cast and crew of over 50 in the most recent production, they always take the time to find the best in each girl and to reinforce what each person is bringing to the process every day.
The girls’ enthusiasm for the program can be measured by the steady stream of students seeking Laurie out during the school day and spending time in the department even when they are not called for rehearsal. As a parent, I appreciate that she takes the time to understand what is going on with the girls academically, personally and socially, knowing that they bring all of that with them into the rehearsal room. Laurie also takes the initiative to support the girls outside of the production process, actively meeting to discuss their theatre work, as well as college and extracurricular programs that support their theatre interests. Rehearsal and performance schedules are set in advance, so the substantial time commitment can be folded into the family calendar without last minute surprises.
We talk about the “Westridge difference.” The theatre program is a tremendous example of that difference. It is Westridge at its best. Brava!
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