Shelterwood Performing Arts: Life Lessons on and off Stage

When Shelterwood students participate in the performing arts, the show itself is only the beginning. Performing arts offer students opportunities for real transformation, and many students experienced that during the recent fall play.

This season, Shelterwood students performed the first-ever fall play, Body, Body. “The play is about a high school girl, Madeline, who thinks she is fat,” explains Kyle Anderson, Shelterwood Performing Arts Coordinator. Other characters in the play are Madeline’s body parts, personified. “These body parts bring back painful moments from her past,” Kyle shares.

“The play is a raw story, and very real. Although it deals with body image, the issues the play deals with are more far-reaching.” Other topics included body image, pressure to be perfect, peer acceptance, eating disorders, self-confidence, self-acceptance and more.

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At the end of the play, Madeline breaks free from these negative messages and decides she wants to be the one in charge of where her life is going. With its relatable themes and meaningful messages, the play offered a platform for Shelterwood students to process through issues they face in their own hearts. “The story does not hide from emotion, bringing some real issues to the table,” Kyle explains. “It was easy for students to get into the story because it was relatable.”

Participating in the play was a turning point for some Shelterwood students, Kyle recalls. The night before the performance brought more than just dress rehearsal jitters, so Kyle paused the practice so students could process their emotions. “As we started talking, several students said they felt unqualified to perform the play, because they were still struggling with some of the messages,” Kyle said. “It was a time of honesty and peer encouragement. They grew closer and learned they do not have to live under those strongholds anymore.”

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Ten Shelterwood students — seven actors and three backstage — participated in the play. The performance was a campus-wide event, with all students and staff in attendance. “Having the whole Shelterwood community supporting them was very encouraging,” Kyle says. “The students had worked very hard and got positive feedback from everyone who watched the show.”

Performing arts experiences at Shelterwood are designed to teach students lessons that last far beyond the performance, including the value of work well done, the importance of collaboration and the joy of trying new things.

“One of our goals for Shelterwood performing arts is to give students the opportunity to gather with their peers and accomplish something they never would have accomplished on their own. Students get to practice that healthy team dynamic, when they come together, work together, push through challenges and develop that sense of community pride in what they accomplished,” Kyle says.

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Students at Shelterwood have many pathways to participate in the performing arts, from live plays to video projects and musical opportunities. They are able to build their work ethic and recognize the good fruit that results from hard work. “These students realized that hard work is a good thing,” Kyle adds. “The play was not perfect, but they succeeded. This is a life lesson they will take with them long after they leave Shelterwood.”

Perhaps the greatest gain is in their self-confidence. “It can be scary to perform in front of others, but through the process of preparing and practicing, a lightbulb goes off, and students realize, ‘I can do this! I can be successful!’”

“There is a special kind of confidence that results from working hard and being successful,” Kyle says. “Students walk around campus a little taller, and they are at peace because they are proud of what they have accomplished. When they start believing in their ability, they start to believe in themselves.”

Students showcase creativity at the Sheltie Awards

Shelterwood students have many opportunities throughout the year to practice performing arts, but the most exciting occasion is the annual Shelterwood Film Festival. Nicknamed “The Shelties,” it is a festive evening of celebration and creativity.

Staff and students alike look forward to this special event, which features both student-created videos and live performances. Everyone dresses up, enjoys a special dinner and takes pictures. This year’s Sheltie Awards were the first to take place in Shelterwood’s new chapel.

“The thing I love most about the Shelties is the way it brings people together to showcase and celebrate the work our students have been doing,” says Kyle Anderson, Performing Arts Coordinator. “The energy of the night is high, and there is plenty of cheering and support.”

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Every performance receives an award. This year’s categories, inspired by those at the Oscar Awards, included Best Actor, Best Actress, Best Musical, Best Editing and Best Overall Picture.

“This is a chance for students to release their creative juices a bit,” says Kyle. “It is a showcase of what we’ve been working on the past few months.”

No two films are the same. Some students take a light-hearted approach, with compilation-style videos. “We had lots of laughs this year!” Kyle says. Another group of students created a film inspired by the 48-Hour Film Project, with a required character, a required line of dialogue and a required prompt, but total freedom otherwise. Some videos were more dramatic, ranging from adventure to poetry.

“Students gain a new sense of confidence from showcasing their work,” Kyle explains. A small choir from his performing arts class sang the song Glory, from the film Selma. “Many of them were nervous to perform live, but there is a different confidence in their faces, their bodies and their posture. Great confidence comes from people being proud of their work.”

Students sometimes use creative arts as a way to process their past or work through issues they’re struggling with now. One student wrote a song about an especially difficult experience and performed it live at this year’s Shelties. “It was a beautiful and well-written song, and it talked about both real hurt and real hope,” Kyle explains. “It was such a moving performance and she found real closure in this.”

One student wanted to share his Indian heritage by creating a Bollywood-style video, complete with a choreographed group number. “He had a big vision and wanted to get many people involved,” says Daniel Schlenker, Activities and Volunteer Coordinator. When the student arrived at Shelterwood, he struggled to relate to his peers and work with other students.

On the day he filmed the video, however, 15 students arrived, enthusiastic to participate. It was an inclusive experience for this student, and he practiced overcoming social challenges in the process. “I could tell on the day it was shown that he had a lot of pride in the outcome of the video,” Daniel says.

Beyond the creative experience, the filmmaking process is an opportunity for students to build their relational and leadership skills. In filmmaking, students initiate a project and see it to fruition. As they share and receive feedback, they read social cues and learn to compromise. Collaboration with a team helps students relate to their peers. They practice taking responsibility for their actions. When the project is complete, students learn to take pride in their work.

“Students develop responsibility and gain the ability to dream, cast vision and imagine grander things,” Kyle says. “It’s all preparation for the real world.”