There’s a certain stir of excitement during the short pause between the lights going down, the curtain coming up, and the first actor stepping into the spotlight on a stage. All of the playwriting, staging,  and rehearsals finally come together to produce an incredible work of art that pulls the audience in, makes them feel, makes them think, and changes their perspective, if only for a moment.

Since opening in 2008, RCT: Professional Theatre for Schools & Families (formerly Roanoke Children’s Theatre) has strived to provide these impactful moments to young audiences and families in the Roanoke Region and beyond. Through the production of four mainstage plays and musicals throughout the year, academy-based classes, workshops, and theatre camps, RCT provides an opportunity for local youth to learn to appreciate theatre education directly from theatre professionals. They  truly believe that “Theatre skills are skills for life”. 

Purposeful Programming Tackles Tough Topics

One year after opening, RCT launched the RCT4Teens program with the goal of writing and producing performances that focus on relevant, challenging topics that local teens face in their daily lives. These plays are performed at public schools in Roanoke City, Roanoke County, Botetourt, and Salem and cover a wide variety of topics such as bullying, drug abuse, and difficulties with home life. At each performance, RCT partners with local human health organizations to address these issues in group Talk Back sessions and provide counseling and support for teens who reach out for help.

“In 2016, our Ice Cream Man play targeted the rampant issue of heroine abuse in our community,” Pat Wilhelm reflects. “I’ll never forget the moment when a young man raised his hand and said ‘That goes on in my house but they said not to tell. What do I do?’ That was all the proof we needed to know the kind of impact we are making with is program.”

The team at RCT believes that when teens are faced with real stories about real problems in an open and supportive setting, the effect can be life changing.

Tracking Progress

While those live and in-person moments with students confirm Pat’s belief that engaging, relatable performances can change the perspective of a young mind, RCT has taken measures to truly evaluate the impact of the program. By partnering with students at Virginia Tech, they created surveys to provide to students before and after the performances. Since beginning this tracking in 2011, they have seen significant statistical changes in the behaviors and perception of risk for the young people who have participated in the RCT4Teens program. 

For example, the surveys following 2016’s Ice Cream Man performances at Northside, William Byrd, Glenvar, and Cave Spring High Schools revealed that 79% of students said that the performance strengthened their choice to not use illegal substances. They also reported that the performance, paired with the Talk Back, increased their understanding of substance use, abuse, and addition. Finally, they were able to collect additional information through open ended questions that will now guide the Prevention Council of Roanoke Valley in providing resources to local youth regarding these issues. 

Why It’s Important to Your Community

These perspective-changing moments produced by the performances of RCT4teens provide both an immediate and long-term impact in our community. These stories and surveys give students and organizations the opportunity to make changes right away. They also provide a lasting impact on students as they become active members of society. Students who are able to deal with issues like bullying, substance abuse, and mental health head on, at a young age, are more likely to overcome challenges as they grow into adulthood. 

RCT: Professional Theatre for Schools & Families is just one of many amazing arts and culture organizations that fuse engaging experience with education in hopes that they can make a lasting impact on the lives of individuals in the communities they serve. We are proud to support RCT in their mission to provide purposeful program to our local youth. This year, RCT4teens will be tackling the dangers of the Internet, how teens can protect themselves from predators, and the possible effects of social media on mental health. We look forward to seeing the community response on this very important topic. 

About RCT: Professional Theatre for Schools & Families

RCT: Professional Theatre for Schools & Families is an independently owned and operated 501c3 organization located in The Jefferson Center in Downtown Roanoke. RCT is dedicated to providing high-quality theatre education and entertainment to families, schools, and children with year-round programming. 

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