My eyes widened in astonishment when I heard, coming from the dark and crowded auditorium, waves of hearty laughter. The crowd was laughing at the play that had long ago lost its humor to my husband Bryan and me. They were laughing hard.
Mystified, I looked across at my husband, and our eyes met. He looked as perplexed as I was. How had this happened? The kids on stage, our fledgling drama students, had started out awkward and uncomfortable during rehearsals. But after three months of encouragement and careful direction, they had gained self-confidence and sparkle, and now, in front of an audience, had blossomed into creative performers. They were, simply put, a delight to watch. They were having a blast, and it showed. I shouldn’t have been surprised, of course. I had laid out my fleece.
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To be brutally honest, the entire theater idea was borne out of a selfish desire to provide a theater experience for our own children after a job-related move left us lonely in a new community. We had left behind a beloved theater group run by talented homeschool moms. I had an idea, and I mustered up the confidence to mention to my husband that maybe we should lay out a fleece, Gideon-style. Gideon had laid out his fleece and asked God to give him a sign; I had an idea about how we could use his methods.
“How hard can it be? We find a script, we rehearse, and then we put on one little show. It wouldn’t be that difficult, would it?” I asked Bryan, in my wheedlingest voice. He was working long hours in a new job, so I knew that much of the work starting a theater group would fall on the shoulders of our five children and me. Well, mostly me.
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“It would be a lot of work,” he said, tiredly.
“But—fun work, right? Satisfying work?”
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“Fun work?’” he snorted, looking at me as if I had just sprouted horns. But he knew how our children were missing their friends. He gave me the go-ahead, though he questioned why homeschool parents in the area would entrust us—strangers and not exactly qualified to direct theater (as far as they knew!)—with their children. But we decided to give it a try.
I called the homeschool mom I had met, and she sent out an e-mail. It was the first week of January.
We decided that if God, within a week, sent us ten homeschooled students who were interested in doing a play with us, we’d...well, figure out what to do next. It did seem unlikely—it was the middle of the school year, and families were certainly already enmeshed in their activities for this school year. Maybe Bryan was right, and the fleece would come up dry.
But it didn’t. God provided a very clear answer. Before the week was out, we had fifteen enthusiastic homeschool students signed up to participate in the brand-new homeschool theater group! I was delighted but a little scared. Okay, that’s an understatement. I was petrified. I didn’t have the luxury that Gideon had: to test God a second or third time. I knew I was stuck with the frightening prospect of directing these children in my first—and their first—theater experience. What had I been thinking? Bryan and I had participated in theater in high school and college, and we did have a nutty predilection for all things theater-related, but we had absolutely no experience in producing and directing a play.
It’s true that we were naïve in that we didn’t realize how this new adventure would eventually take over our lives, although in a good way (mostly!). We also had no idea how much fun we were going to have. We were unwittingly climbing into a roller coaster, one cluttered with half-used pots of stage make-up and old velvet costumes held together by safety pins and ancient ratty wigs and strange bits and pieces of furniture and old junk, and it was going to scream up and down, and we would cover our eyes at times, shrieking and hollering...with joy, fear, and quite often, delight.
Bryan went to his new job, and I went to work teaching our children, unpacking boxes, and planning the play. I picked out a script that fit our cast size and ordered copies of it. I wrote a check for the royalty fee. My friend got permission from a local church to meet there. I made up a simple schedule, and we held auditions. And I prayed. A lot.
All of this was completely out of my comfort zone, by the way. Somehow, with God’s help, I ignored my discomfort enough to lead this eager and creative group of kids. Thankfully, my children are all extroverted enough to make up for my natural introverted tendencies. Funny how that worked out.
We held auditions and then rehearsed weekly for three months, doubling up the rehearsals the last two weeks. We built set on the weekends and shopped for and sewed costumes whenever we could. Parents helped find costumes and props and provided snacks after rehearsals. We all got to know each other well, and we became friends.
Before we knew it, it was show night. The roller coaster ride was almost over. We printed programs and put finishing touches on the set. Our children didn’t want the experience to end, but honestly, Bryan and I were ready for it all to be over. We had learned a great deal, we had had oodles of fun, but we were tired and anxious to catch up on other chores. I really needed to clean my house.
We were amazed when we had to scramble to find extra chairs to set up in the back, as the auditorium filled up. The performance was a hit.
Afterwards, our kids all lined up in the back and hollered with joy, hugging each other and laughing. Parents showered us with gratitude. I felt God’s pleasure. We had put our fleece out, in faith, and God had rewarded us with this successful production and new relationships with these awesome people. We had all been strangers to each other a few months back, but now we were a close-knit group.
But even great things have to come to an end, right? We would pack up scripts and stage make-up, return the spotlights, clean the auditorium, pack away costumes, and return to our “normal” lives. That was the plan...
But then the drama kids rushed up to us, elated, and showered us with appreciation and hugs. And then they began to chatter enthusiastically about next year’s play. Bryan and I looked at each other. “Whaaa... next year’s play...?”
Starting our theater group was probably one of the most important decisions we’ve ever made. Not only did God provide for the social desires of our children, but He also taught them how to be leaders. They learned to watch out for the shy kids and newbies, and how important it was to be kind to everybody. Moreover, we had provided a positive social experience for many homeschool students in the area who also hungered for friends. Our group became a fun social entity even beyond the months of drama, holding parties, bonfires, showers, and celebrations.
Now ten years later, we’ve had weddings between drama kids and a few babies born among the group! I am so happy that we listened years ago when God nudged us a bit and told us that we could do this crazy thing.
So there’s the short version on how we succeeded at starting our theater group. We are now preparing for our eleventh year of homeschool drama, reading scripts, getting the school auditorium rented, and lining up parent volunteers. We do things a little differently now than we did that first year. We put on a much bigger show, with surprise community guests and musical numbers. It still takes over our lives for four or five months of each year. We have made countless friends and we savor precious memories.
Now that you’ve read my story, perhaps you’re thinking that this is something you might want to try. And maybe you’re right! A theater group could bless the homeschool families in your area, and some of that blessing will fall onto your own family too. Who knows—this particular roller coaster ride may be just the thing that will liven up your homeschool experience!
Amy Young Miller teaches her six children on acreage in Nebraska. She is a freelance writer, an artist, a musician, and she teaches homeschool drama. She is working on a book about creating a homeschool drama group, and you can receive updates about it by following her on Twitter, where she is known as @dramamamafive.
Copyright 2012, used with permission. All rights reserved by author. Originally appeared in the January 2012 issue of The Old Schoolhouse® Magazine, the trade magazine for homeschool families. Read the magazine free at www.TOSMagazine.com or read it on the go and download the free apps at www.TOSApps.com to read the magazine on your mobile devices.
Publication date: February 8, 2013