EDINBURGH — Undisputed queen of theater and film, legendary actress Julie Andrews has some profound wisdom to share with everyone. As her remarkable character Catherine in Once Special Night once shared “Feed the body with food and drink, it will survive today. Feed the soul art and music, it will live forever.” In recent years, many school districts have struggled to maintain the arts programs that nurture the souls of countless students across the country.One local school district, Edinburgh School District, has faced the same But now they have hope in the form of Taylor Strom, a Pana native who is on a mission to bring the arts back to Edinburgh.
Strom works as a school counselor for the whole district of Edinburgh. But she has extensive experience in theater and the arts. “I have a lot of drama an experience, coming back. I’m from Pana, actually,” she explained. “My parents both worked at school. My mother was a theater teacher and she did all the plays. So I did everything in high school. So with Edinburg, I was like, I could do it on my own, with my mum’s guidance.
Her experience with the arts, however, goes beyond high school. “I went to the University of the Island for my undergraduate in teaching, in music education. Then I taught for a year at Mattoon,” Strom added. Although she has since decided to become a full-time counselor and has completed her master’s degree to pursue this goal, a love of the arts and knowledge of the benefits they bring was never far away.
When Strom saw that Edinburgh lacked a lot of arts for students, she decided to take it upon herself to solve the problem. “I remember I approached Ashley Francis and said, ‘Hey, you know, we don’t have anything here at school in the way of art or drama or music. I have quite extensive experience, and if I created a club for these children? And Ashle was like, oh my God, yes, please. Storm shared enthusiastically, laughing at the memory. This is how the Drama Club started. And so far, the response has been outstanding.
“The kids seem super excited about it. I have high school and college students. Right now, I mean, I have between 20 and 25 kids. I had a few kids who wanted to join. Every time we’ve had a meeting, and we’ve had two, I’ve had kids come up to me asking if they can join and I’m like, yes! Please do it!” said Storm.
Strom doesn’t want to limit the Drama Club to school. She also wants to involve the community. “It’s a new program for Edinburgh. When I met the kids, I asked if they had any parents or family members who wanted to get involved and help build sets or assemble costumes, to let me know. It’s a community thing. I have teachers asking for help. Our superintendent really likes to build stuff, so maybe he’ll build a set for us. But we’ll have to reach out to the community for props and prepare for now. If the parents want to come and help me, I welcome them with open arms.
In addition to giving students a fun extracurricular activity and broadening their horizons, Strom explained that clubs like the Drama Club and other art-based clubs have real benefits for kids who participate. “I think right now the club will help children in terms of emotional and social development. It can help them communicate with each other, work as a team, build team spirit and build relationships. I know, when I was in a drama club in high school, they were some of the closest friends I had. Not just because you two are together in a club, but the activities you do together are very intimate. You are vulnerable, you express your emotions and you put yourself in the shoes of others. It also takes into account the concepts of taking perspective and working with each other, and these children need it. They are so lost in terms of building relationships with other people, especially post-COVID They need an outlet to explore and be creative and I wanted to do that.
In order to foster these necessary skills, as well as expose students to the real world of theater, Strom has built the club to be informative and engaging.
“What we will be working on in the Drama Club will be very much about acting and directing games. We are going to learn how to perform in front of someone else, or how to read a script, etc. What about behind the scenes and what is involved in all of this? We’re going to break down theater and how it works and how to do a play,” Strom explained, adding, “The kids love it. They’re a little nervous, but one of the things we’ll be working on at the Drama Club is having little five to ten minute skits for the kids. Then they will go to the elementary classes to play. This will get them working on memorizing lines and getting used to playing with an audience. It’s the biggest thing kids aren’t prepared for.
To please his Drama Club students, Strom wants to give them the chance to see a live theatrical or musical production. “We are planning a trip to a musical in December. We are shooting for Elf, the musical at Millikin. I told the kids I was taking them to a show, but that’s the one I’m going for. I want to show them what a career or a life in theater could potentially look like.
Although he just launched the Drama Club, Strom already has plans to put on a play in the spring. The production will be open to the whole school. Storm explained, “A lot of kids in Drama Club right now, they don’t really want to perform. They just want to do the stuff behind the scenes. Drama Club will do activities and exercises and a simple introduction to drama activities. I will open the audition to anyone in the school. I did the audition form for the kids and I have a sign up sheet for them. I will be doing auditions next week. I’ll give them parts of the script to go home and rehearse. I will also seek their commitment in terms of time. We have so many other clubs and sporting responsibilities, so I’m more than willing to work on the schedules. But it’s a time commitment. If I have a child who is busy every night of the week, he probably can’t be a lead.
Now you might be wondering why not make a musical? Strom had a simple answer. “We’re not doing a musical this year because, one, it’s a lot of work for a first year, and two, these kids haven’t been introduced to music and singing. And, yeah, we don’t. “We don’t have any music. We’re such a new club, I want to do something relatively easy and not many people know it would be funny and fun to do. Let’s get people in here and see what they can do. Let’s collect funds and get donations and build our budget so we can put on a great show and we start from scratch and try to build the program.
She did not rule out the possibility of doing a musical in the future. In fact, Strom even hoped that in the future they could start a musical program and do a musical. But, for the club’s first year in business and having to build it entirely from scratch, it was just easier for her to play regularly. Those limitations won’t stop Strom and his Drama Club from having fun, though.
“The play is Bedtime Stories (As told by our father (who spoils them)). It’s very cute and there are three children trying to go to bed. The dad has to put him to bed and the kids ask for bedtime stories and the dad is like, I don’t know any. But he tries to say three and he keeps messing them up. It is very funny. It’s a comedy and it will be very, very cute. The play will be on the last weekend of March, the 24th and 25th. It will be like a Friday night performance and the 25th will be somewhere around noon. Strom said excitedly.
Strom shared that she was thrilled to kick off auditions for the part. She encouraged anyone interested, even remotely, to sign up for an audition. “We don’t have a ton of cast members. We can double the cast or add more roles. It will depend on the kids when they come in and what they are comfortable with. I can’t wait to see them at auction. It will be very stress free. They’ll just come into my office and it’ll be just me and them. No judgment.
With unwavering dedication and enthusiasm, Taylor Strom set out to nurture the souls of all students in the Edinburgh School District by providing them with the opportunity to be involved in theater and the arts. For parents or community members interested in supporting Strom’s new curriculum and vision for the arts in the school, contact the school district to see how you can help.