Stephen F. Austin State University

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Education through theatre becomes Fredonia Players' new focus

April 10, 2015 - Robbie Goodrich
SFA theatre students and members of the Fredonia Players Angelica Banda and Eric Gibson involve Christ Episcopal School students Seth Jones, bottom, and Nicholas Bacarisse, far right, in an interactive history lesson.
NACOGDOCHES, Texas - The Fredonia Players, Stephen F. Austin State University School of Theatre's outreach performance troupe, has changed its mission and is focused on education through theatre, according to Melissa McMillian-Cunningham, theatre teacher certification program coordinator at SFA.

Evolving over the years from The Original Cast to The (New) Original Cast to the Fredonia Players, the student ensemble has now created a show that brings Texas history to life in a way that conforms to TEKS curriculum requirements. They designed the program especially to be performed for students in fourth and seventh grades.

This latest educational outreach provides a win-win situation for both SFA and the schools and other audiences that will be seeing the work. This new focus of the Fredonia Players gives SFA theatre students who are preparing to be teachers an opportunity to work with children within a classroom environment.

"Whether they are going to be professional actors or technicians, theatre students will likely become involved with a professional company that will have a branch dedicated to theatre for young adults," Cunningham said. "This gives our students an opportunity to work with theatre enrichment, which most will find themselves involved in their future professions."

In addition to educational material that serves teachers' needs, there is also the "pure enrichment" for younger students who get to see and participate in these productions, providing an idea of what SFA has to offer them in the future. This initiative also further enhances relationships between SFA, the community and area schools, Cunningham said.

"And, it's great that our name is Fredonia because of the Texas history locally related to the Fredonia Rebellion," Cunningham said.

Some of the sketches, monologues and songs in the show focus on individual Texas figures, such as Davy Crockett, Elisabet Ney, William Travis and Mollie Bailey.

"Some may be relatively unknown names in Texas history, but they are covered by the TEKS in history education, or they may be interesting characters that are relatable to students," she said.

The presentations provide opportunity for students' involvement, such as in square dancing, games and reading activities.

"When a teacher or administrator asks us to come to their class or school, we put together something that will work for that particular venue," Cunningham said.

Sets are minimal, and performances can take place in small or large classrooms, gyms or auditoriums.

"It's very flexible," Cunningham said.

Dancing, singing, acting, reading and audience participation bring Texas history to life, she said, and the vision is to continue to add new components to the program over time, based on feedback from area schools.

The presentations can also be done for civic clubs and other community organizations, Cunningham said. The Fredonia Players recently performed for the Nacogdoches Chapter, Daughters of the American Revolution. An original readers' theatre piece was written for the performance, which featured content specifically relating to DAR's goals and American history.

"Given the opportunity and the time, we can devise a 15- to 20-minute piece specifically written for just about any organization," she said.

The Fredonia Players performed this semester at the Caddo Mounds State Historic Site and at Christ Episcopal School, and the troupe is looking for other performance opportunities.

"Ideally, I'd like to see us not just work here locally, but eventually extend ourselves to larger areas and longer distances in the state of Texas," she said. "Over time, I hope we will grow and improve in our work so that it becomes a larger outreach."

Two public performances are scheduled for 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. Saturday, April 18, in the Music Recital Hall in the Wright Music Building. Admission is $7.50, with tickets available through the SFA Fine Arts Box Office.

The Fredonia Players' fee for performing before groups is dependent, in part, on length of travel, Cunningham said. For additional information, contact Cunningham at (936) 468-1227 or at mmcmillian@sfasu.edu.