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EDINBURG — An undisputed queen of both theater and movies, legendary actress Julie Andrews has some profound wisdom to share with everyone. As her remarkable character Catherine in Once Special Night once shared “Feed the body food and drink, it will survive today. Feed the soul art and music, it will live forever.” In recent years, there has been a struggle among many school districts to keep the art programs that feed the souls of countless students across the country going. One local school district, the Edinburg School District, has faced that same struggle. But now, they have hope in the form of Taylor Strom, a Pana native who has made it her mission to bring the arts back to Edinburg.
Strom works as the school counselor for the entire Edinburg district. But she has extensive background in drama and the arts. “I have a lot of dram a experience, going back. I’m from Pana, actually,” She explained, “My parents both worked at the school. My mom was the drama teacher and she did all the plays. So I did it all in high school. So, with Edinburg, I was like, I could do this myself, with my mom’s guidance.”
Her experience with the arts goes beyond high school, though. “I went to U of I for my undergraduate for teaching, in music education. Then I taught for a year in Mattoon,” Strom added. While she has since decided to become a full time counselor and finished her master’s degree to pursue that goal, the love of the arts, and the knowledge of the benefits they bring, were never far.
When Strom saw that Edinburg lacked much in the way of arts for students, she decided to take it upon herself to fix the problem. “I remember, I approached Ashley Francis and I was like, ‘Hey, you know, we don’t have anything here at school in terms of art or theater or music. I have a pretty extensive background, so what if I did a club for these kids?’ And Ashle was like, oh my God, yes, please.” Storm shared excitedly, laughing at the memory. That was how the Drama Club started. And so far, the response has been exceptional.
“The kids seem super excited about it. I have high school and junior high kids. Right now, I want to say, I have anywhere from 20-25 kids. I’ve had a couple of kids wanting to join. Every time we’ve had a meeting, and we’ve had two-ish, I’ve had kids coming up asking if they can join and I’m like, yes! Please, do it!” Storm said.
Strom doesn’t want to limit the Drama Club to just the school. She wants to have the community involved, as well. “This is a new program for Edinburg. When I met with the kids, I asked if they had parents or family members that want to be involved and help build sets or get costumes together, to let me know. This is a community thing. I’ve got teachers asking to help. Our superintendent really likes to build stuff, so maybe he will build us a set. But we are going to have to reach out to the community for props and set for now. If parents want to come in and help, I welcome them with open arms.”
Aside from giving the students a fun extracurricular activity and broadening their horizons, Strom explained that clubs like the Drama Club and other art-based clubs have actual benefits for the children involved in them. “I think, right now, the club is going to help kids in terms of emotional and social development. It can help them with communicating with one another, with teamwork, team building, relationship building. I know, when I was in dram club back in high school, those were some of the closest friends I had. Not only because you are in a club together, but the activities you are doing together are very intimate. You’re being vulnerable and expressing your emotions and putting yourself in other people’s shoes. It also takes on concepts of perspective taking and working with each other, and these kids need that. They are so lost in terms of building relationships with other people, especially after COVID. They need an outlet to explore and be creative and I wanted to make that.”
In order to foster those necessary skills, as well as expose the students to the actual world of drama, Strom has built the club in such a way to be informative as well as engaging.
“What we are going to be working on in the Drama Club is going to be a lot about acting games and stage direction games. We are going to learn about how to perform in front of somebody else, or how do you read a script and the like. What about backstage and what is involved in that stuff? We are going to break down the theater and how it works and how to go about a play,” Strom shared, adding, “The kids are excited about it. They’re a little nervous, but one of the things we will be working on in Drama Club is having little five to ten minutes skits for the kids to work on. Then they’ll go into the elementary classrooms to perform. This will get them to work on memorizing lines and getting used to performing with an audience. That’s the biggest thing kids aren’t prepared for.”
As a treat for her students in the Drama Club, Strom wants to give them a chance to watch a live theater production or musical. “We are planning a trip to a musical in December. We are shooting for Elf, the Musical at Millikin. I told the kids I’m taking them to a show, but that’s the one I’m going for. I want to show them what a career or life in theater could potentially work like.”
Despite having just started the Drama Club, Strom already has plans to put on a play in the spring. The production will be opened to the entire school. Storm explained, “A lot of the kids in Drama Club right now, they don’t really want to act. They just want to do the backstage stuff. Drama Club will be doing activities and exercise and simple introduction to theater activities. I’m going to open the audition to anyone in the school. I made the audition form for the kids and I have a sign up sheet for them. I’ll do auditions next week. I’ll give them parts of the script to go home and rehearse. I’ll be looking for their time commitment, too. We’ve got so many other clubs and sports responsibilities, so I’m more than willing to work around scheduling. But this is a time commitment. If I have a kiddo that is busy every night of the week, they probably can’t be a lead.”
Now, you might be wondering, why not do a musical? Strom had a simple answer. “We are not doing a musical this year because, one, it’s a lot of work for a first year, and two these kids haven’t had an introduction to music and singing. And, yeah, we don’t have music. We are such a new club, I want to do something that is relatively easy and not a lot of people know that would be funny and fun to do. Let’s get people in here and see what they can do. Let’s fundraise and get donations and build up our budget so we can put on a big show. We are starting from nothing and we are trying to build the program.”
She was not discounting the possibility of doing a musical in the future. In fact, Strom was even hopeful that in the future they might be able to get a music program going and do a musical. But, for the first year of the club being active and having to build it entirely from the ground up, it was just simpler for her to do a regular play. Those limitation won’t stop Strom and her Drama Club from having fun, though.
“The play is Bedtime Stories (As told by our dad (who messes them up)). It’s very cute and there are three kids who are trying to go to bed. The dad has to put him to bed and the kids are asking for bedtime stories and the dad is like, I don’t know any. But he tries to tell three and he keeps messing them up. It’s very fun. It’s a comedy and it will be very, very cute. The play will be the last weekend in March, the 24 and 25. It’ll be like a Friday night performance and the 25 will be somewhere midday.” Strom enthusiastically stated.
Strom shared that she was excited to get the auditions for the play going. She encouraged anyone who was even remotely interested to sign up for an audition. “We don’t have a ton of cast members. We can double cast or add more roles. It’ll depend on the kids when they come in and what they are comfortable with. I’m eager to see them auction. It’ll be very low stress. They’ll just come into my office and it’ll be just me and them. No judgments.”
With dedication and never failing enthusiasm, Taylor Strom has set out to feed the souls of all students in Edinburg School District by providing them with an opportunity to be involved in theater and the arts. For parents or community members interested in supporting the new program and Strom’s vision of the arts in the school, reach out to the school district to see how you can help.