Metropolitan State University of Denver’s Educational Theatre Internship with Kaiser Permanente has chalked up some pretty impressive numbers in the last three years: Theatre students have visited 113 elementary schools and reached an estimated 40,000 students and adults with a live-healthy message.
Now, the program is entering its fourth year with a new student touring company, new costumes and a new script. Rehearsals started last week and the troupe will hit the road in October.
Nationally, Kaiser Permanente’s Educational Theatre Programs (ETP) have offered free performances to promote health and safety to youngsters for 27 years. The partnership between the University and the health-care giant started in 2010 when Kaiser Permanente’s 11-member professional troupe had trouble keeping up with the demand for performances.
So, Kaiser Permanente approached Professor Marilyn “Cookie” Hetzel, chair of the Theatre Department, about recruiting theatre students for a second troupe. The opportunity fit nicely with the department's philosophy that "theatre is equipment for living"—an experience that helps students develop skills that that can support them in many professions.
“Storytelling…is one of the most effective ways of teaching,” she says. “And this is another sophisticated way of storytelling. Engaging one’s sense of play is a way to engage one’s sense of learning.”
The play, “Health Team 4: Mission 5210” (five fruits and vegetables each day, two hours or less of screen [TV, computer] time, one hour of physical activity each day, zero sugary drinks) has been trimmed from eight actors to four, each of whom will take on multiple roles. Members of the MSU Denver troupe are either juniors or seniors and must be theatre majors or minors.
They will travel to schools on Tuesdays and Thursdays during the academic year to teach elementary students the importance of healthy eating and exercise—a message aimed at youth obesity, which affects 17 percent of all children and adolescents in the United States, according to federal statistics.
The MSU Denver actors receive $1,000 per semester, three hours of upper-division internship credit and experience working with professional actors in a real-world road show.
“They do everything from packing the truck, to maintaining all of the things they use, to packing up when they leave, to performing and rehearsing,” Hetzel says.
Hannah Palmer, a senior musical theatre major with her eye on Broadway someday, was a member of last year’s troupe. The internship, she says, builds on the values of the Theatre Department and reinforces the skills and attitudes needed for success on stage and in life: time management, teamwork, reliability, stress control and more.
“I learned so much in the Kaiser internship program,” she says. “It has been invaluable to my acting education.”
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