The educational power of live theater

“I’ve always been a little bit of a ham,” says David Ostergaard, Emmy-award winning owner and CEO of Bright Star Touring Theatre, on one of the nation’s largest providers of theatrical performances for schools, libraries and theaters. “When I was a kid, I used to turn our garage into a movie set on, like, a weekly basis. I would hang sheets to create backdrops, build props and costumes and film myself doing all sorts of characters. It was fun to make up a world that you could be in total control of, and I think that a lot of kids feel that way when they get on stage. They can be anything.”

 
For Ostergaard, this passion blossomed into a career. After graduating with honors from the University of North Carolina-Greensboro, Ostergaard worked for a number of touring theater companies. “I loved working on the road, but I really wanted to be my own boss and do shows that would make an impact on students.” Ostergaard created Bright Star in 2003, and began with literary shows – A Christmas Carol, Secret Garden and The Lady of Bullyburg – a show that addressed something Ostergaard had experienced in his own life. “I wanted to spread the message to kids that bullying is not something that you have to just live with. There are things you can do to advocate for yourself, and, most important, it’s a temporary state. You will grow up, your friends will grow up, and it gets better.”

 

And along the way the company has heard from hundreds of teachers about the power that live theater has for students. “We hear from teachers all of the time about how students that have a hard time paying attention in class can sit still and focus through a performance,” says Tina Ostergaard, Chief Creative Officer at Bright Star (and wife of CEO David). Recent studies in education back her up.

 
Studies in Maryland, North Carolina, Oklahoma and Arkansas have shown that schools and districts that focus on using the arts to make the curriculum meaningful to students show significantly increased achievement rates across tested measurements like reading, science and math. Additional improvements were found in attendance rates alongside decreases in behavioral referrals. “I have been working with arts integration, particularly with theatre, since 2003, and, while it’s not a magic bullet, when schools do it right and bring theater into their classrooms, the schools improve,” reports Josh Batenhorst, Chief Operating Officer for Bright Star. Batenhorst also works by contract as a “Teaching Fellow” for A+ Schools of North Carolina – the nation’s longest-running arts-based school improvement program. “I have seen it happen in schools that I’ve worked with all across the country, from rural schools in eastern North Carolina, to suburban schools in Iowa and urban schools in Texas. The arts, and especially theatre, work. If a school wants to improve, the first thing it should do is figure out how to bring educational drama to its staff and students.”

 
Bright Star provides just such a service. Performing for over 1500 audiences per year, Bright Star delights audiences with engaging, energetic and educational theatrical assemblies. “Our shows are 45 minutes in length and designed to help teachers by covering topics that they deal with every day. Anti-bullying, inclusion and diversity, all of our shows are packed with character education lessons.”

 

But Bright Star is more than just a producer of shows…

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