Ensemble Theatre Company
(Ensemble Theatre Company photo)

The school year is just around the corner, and Noozhawk’s ParentNooz After School Activities Guide is officially here and we made sure to make things easy when planning your child’s after school activities! Our 2019 After School Activities guide provides you and your child with all the necessary information when deciding on which after school program is the best fit.

To give parents the tools to help make informed decisions about after school programs for their kids in Santa Barbara, Noozhawk has conducted a series of interviews with representatives of local programs for this year’s After School Activities Guide.

In this interview, Noozhawk sat down with Brian McDonald, Director of Education and Outreach at Ensemble Theatre Company, to learn more about their after school program here in Santa Barbara. 

Ensemble Theatre Company

Question: What is the name of your After School Activity/Program? What is its mission?

Answer: Acting Classes for Middle and High Schoo Students​

Q: Describe the activities involved in your After School Activity/Program.

A: ETC’s acting classes offer participants the opportunity to study with “teaching artists” who are working theatre professionals with a high-level degree or experience in the performing arts. With an average class size of 14, these courses provide one-on-one interaction in addition to group activities and culminate with a final presentation of selected scenes and monologues for family and friends. Whether you are an aspiring actor or just want to try something new, Ensemble Theatre Company students will find themselves at ease in this supportive classroom environment as they expand their comfort zone, hone their skills and explore the exciting art of acting!

Q: What are the hours of your after school activity or program?

A: Saturday’s from 9:30 am – 11:30 am and 12:00 pm – 2:00 pm

Q: What is the age range for children to take part in your after school activity or program?

A:  Ages 8 – 18.

Q: When was your program started and what was the inspiration for creating it?

A: I’ve been working with young actors for over 20 years and it feeds my spirit. My learning process is ongoing and each time I teach, I attempt to bring something fresh to my students. I endeavor to bring an enthusiastic, encouraging, and energetic atmosphere to the classroom while taking very seriously the power that a teacher can hold over the mind of a student. I hope to shape students who are advocates of their values, yet respectful of the opinions of others. I further believe that students deserve a safe place to exchange their hopes and fears thereby enabling them to develop a more solid understanding of the world in which they live and their service to it. By guiding my students through a theatre curriculum, I hope to create an appreciation for life-long learning not only in the arts, but in all aspects of their lives so that well beyond their education they will live as bold and contributing citizens. I believe that through theatre education, we unlock the artist and common humanity that lies deep within the human spirit.

Q: Describe what makes your after school program unique and worthwhile.

A: The acting class presents several distinctive teaching requirements and opportunities. The acting instructor must have flexibility, patience and the ability to listen. The wonderful thing about teaching actors is the requirement for individualized teaching and attention, which makes it unlike any other kind of instructional academic environment. Each student must embark on his or her own journey of self-exploration and discovery, and in my experience the best way to help any acting student is to listen to and interpret what they need. It is, therefore, my job to encourage and challenge the creative energy of each individual student, while also fostering personal development, discovery and growth.

Q: Has any part of the program changed since it was created?

A: We live in a “digital age” that is creating a society which is more disconnected; fragmented and disengaged. We have a thousand virtual friends and yet we are more alone and isolated than ever. We have confused familiarity with intimacy. Even when we are together, we are alone. Our electronic devices become more important than actual human connection. With eyes fixated on the text, email, post, tweet, or one of the thousand other bits of digital information that pop up throughout our day, we have lost our ability to connect with life, ourselves and the world we live in. Theatre allows us to engage in this type of concentrated, attentive reflection. Theatre further requires the exchange of ideas and immediate physical connection with another human being, which is so sadly lacking in our world today. Theatre fosters the development of thought, learning habits and discovery. It is a quest for truth and understanding of the human condition. This is what drives me as an artist and as a teacher.

Q: What is the average program size or class size for your activity? Teacher to student ratio?

A: The maximum enrollment is 14 students to one teacher. Another special challenge in the acting class arises from the need for encouragement not only from the acting instructor but from all the students in the classroom. Bringing this sense of cohesion can at times be challenging. There are innumerable hurdles that can divide a group of people, but when a group works as an ensemble, communities are built and great theatre is possible. In my classroom, everyone regardless of race, gender, sexual preference or skill set, has something to offer. Each and every student is treated as a valuable and intelligent individual. I work to instill that sense of equality, with the overarching lesson that we achieve greater things when we reach beyond ourselves and find ways to help one another. 

The group dynamic of an acting class also presents the challenge and opportunity of creating a safe environment for risk-taking. Much of the art of acting requires self-discovery and the expanding of personal boundaries and emotional limits. I encourage my students to find their own way through this process by asking questions rather than dictating answers. That process is an important stage in their growth as an artist, and the classroom is a place in which to fully invest oneself. By creating a safe environment and setting high standards, students can reach beyond their limits to hone their talent into skillful expression.

Q:  In what ways is your program educational?

A: Theatre is essential to the existence, celebration and continuation of our society. Theatre plays a vital role in the educational community, not only in its link to virtually all humanistic studies, but also in its demand for curiosity, honesty and creativity which are fundamental building blocks to all learning. As a teacher I strive to foster these values, utilizing a variety of techniques and methods. I recognize that teaching theatre and acting poses unique challenges and rewards, particularly in the need to focus on each student’s individual growth alongside the development of a cohesive, working group. I fully appreciate that my job and influence as an acting teacher have the potential to extend far beyond the classroom and the stage.

Q: What is the cost/tuition? Are scholarships available?

A: Tuition is $220. Limited financial assistance is available. Scholarship applications can be found online at www.etcsb.org.

Click here for more information about Ensemble Theatre Company, or call  805-965-5400.