DePaul University Newsline > Sections > Campus and Community > Theatre School’s Creative Root brings the joy of theatre to Chicago children

Theatre School’s Creative Root brings the joy of theatre to Chicago children

Mechelle Moe believes that teaching theatre to children helps immerse them in a world of creativity, one where they get to reimagine classic stories or create new ones, learn the ins-and-outs of making a stage production and, most importantly, practice important life skills such as collaboration, empathy and compassion.

"Theatre can be a wonderful tool to investigate, understand and engage with the world around you. It is also an important tool for self-exploration and discovery," Moe says. "Theatre can help build one's confidence while exercising self-expression, communication and creative thinking skills. We do this all through creative play, and that's the most valuable tool of all. I think it can be easy to forget how vital 'playing' is as we get older. Theatre is a space to rediscover and embrace it."

An arts educator in Chicago for more than 20 years, Moe serves as the director of education at Raven Theatre and a teaching artist for Lookingglass Theatre Company and Lifeline Theatre outside of DePaul. In recent years, she has focused on integrating trauma-informed healing practices, social-emotional learning and mindfulness into her personal practice and programming. Most importantly, she believes that joy and well-being should be at the center of the work.

With those dreams and concepts in mind, Moe joined The Theatre School in 2020, charged with building and launching an arts education auxiliary program. Three years later and after navigating the many challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic, Creative Root in The Theatre School is thriving, led by Moe, its director.

The programming is expansive, includes school-year and summer sessions, and provides DePaul students with valuable teaching and learning opportunities.

During the school year, Creative Root provides classroom and after-school theatre programs to Chicago schools and community organizations. The curriculum is aligned with the Illinois Learning Standards for Fine Arts, as well as with social-emotional standards. The program lasts between eight and 16 sessions and explores such topics as emotions and self-expression; imaginative storytelling and creative play; adapting, devising and creating full stories; devising identity stories and personal narratives; and "Playworks in the Classroom," in collaboration with The Theatre School's Theatre for Young Audiences field trip series.

DePaul Theatre School students who are passionate about arts education and aim to become professional teaching artists in the field after they graduate have opportunities to work as assistants during the programs, gaining valuable teaching experience to supplement their in-classroom courses.

In the summer, Creative Root offers several two-to-three-week camps on the Lincoln Park Campus, where campers create an original script inspired by the worlds and characters of popular literature and culminates in a performance for family and friends. Some of the themes for this summer include "Zeus the Mighty," based on the National Geographic series by Crispin Boyer; "Percy Jackson," based on the book series by Rick Riordan; "Charlotte's Web," based on the book by E.B. White; and "Explore-A-Story-Dom: The Gruffalo."

Each camp works collectively to build its own unique story while learning about theatre fundamentals. Typical days include warming up the actor's tools, theatre games, ensemble building, exploring the story and its characters — and bringing it all to life through scriptwriting, performance, costume and prop building.

Leading the campers are Teaching Artists, DePaul students from The Theatre School and high school students looking to learn more about the theatre process. The Teaching Artists are Chicago theatre professionals who bring their expertise in acting, musical theatre, dance, stage combat and puppetry into the classroom.

"It's really a mentorship ladder," Moe says. "For DePaul and high school students to serve as leaders for campers while also spending time working arm-in-arm with top theatre professionals in Chicago is something that makes me really proud. It's a special and unique component of Creative Root that helps prepare our students for their careers post-college by helping them get to know the landscape of arts education in Chicago."

With hopes of increased financial backing, Moe has big plans for Creative Root, which includes expanding programming to include adults and seniors, and increased scholarships and funding to make not only the camp experience but also school programming available to all children who are interested, regardless of background.

"We want to be able to provide an outlet for students all over Chicago to experience theatre," Moe says. "Arts programming should be available for everyone, not just for those who can afford it. We're excited not only to bring young people to our campus but also to get into the schools and communities that don't currently have these opportunities available to them. We want to help amplify new voices and spread the joy of creativity."

For more on Creative Root and the summer camps that are currently open for sign-ups, visit the Creative Root website.

Russell Dorn is a manager of news and integrated content in University Communications.