WAIMEA — Where are the children on Wednesday afternoon?
Many, from as far away as Chiefess Kamakahelei Middle School, are at Waimea Theater, where Erika Denbo has started a theatrical program primarily for youngsters 9, 10, and 11 years old.
“There’re a lot of programs for highschool students. And there are programs for students on the Eastside, but there’s nothing for the students out here,” Denbo said while her students were taking a two-minute water break Wednesday afternoon.
An outreach worker with Nana’s House as well as an instructor in yoga, Denbo has put into action what she has learned while wearing her other career hats.
Working with leaders of the Westside Coalition, Denbo secured funding to start her theater program in cooperation with members of the staff of the Waimea Theater.
“They’ve been really the best,” Andrew Crawford, an associate instructor piped in, about the theater staff members.
Meeting from 2:30 p.m. to 4:30 p.m. each Wednesday, the collection of students hails from various parts of the island. Denbo noted that some come from Waimea Canyon School, others from Kalaheo, and as far away as Chiefess Kamakahelei Middle School.
“I’ve just gotten fliers out to Kekaha School,” Denbo said. “So hopefully, we’ll get some students from there, too.”
Students taking part in the weekly sessions are treated to an informative and fun two hours, as Denbo and Crawford work them through various “games” involving the students, and in the process, have the students learn some of the principles of the performing arts with an emphasis on improvisation.
A familiarization circle always starts the afternoon, and, depending on the students in attendance, Denbo works in art, exercise, stretches, and warm-ups before turning the students loose on the theater’s stage that is illuminated by show lights.
On this Wednesday, the students were involved in both word games and hand games, where they had to come up with spontaneous responses using two initials until one got stumped.
“Don’t think,” Crawford urged the students. “If you think, you’ll always die. You need to think on your feet.”
That death always came with an eruption of laughter from the other students present in the circle, and appeared to be the spice that kept the activity flowing until the appearance of a brother or sister or parent hailed the end of a quick afternoon.
That signal brought the group back to an ending circle, where the participants would provide feedback to the instructors.
Denbo said that when she first started the program in October, there were only a few students, most of them in high school.
“But, they come and they go,” she said. “Some weeks, there are a lot of students. Highschool students have a lot of other things to think about, and they go depending on what (sport) is in season.”
Denbo said middle- and elementary-school students don’t always have that luxury, and her theater training fills a void for them, offering students the opportunity to learn as well as have fun. Additionally, Denbo pointed out, “It helps build confidence in the children.”
“I really enjoy this,” said Ayla Blackburn, a student who made the trek from Chiefess Kamakahelei Middle School. “This is my second time, and it’s really fun. I’m really enjoying this.”
Beka McKeague, another Chiefess Kamakahelei Middle School student, sought out the Waimea program after taking in some adult sessions that were being offered at the Aloha Center in Nawiliwili.
“She’s really good,” Crawford said, acknowledging her achievements at the adult classes.
Denbo said she still has room for more students, and points out that because of the funding from leaders of the Westside Coalition, the program is free to students.
“No matter how many students come, we’ll still have enough games for them,” Denbo said. “It’s fun to hear laughing kids.”
For more information, people may call 338-0252.
- Dennis Fujimoto, staff writer and photographer, may be reached at 245-3681 (ext. 253) or email@example.com