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Ohio State theater group empowers high school students

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TAG students attending Motown the Musical at the Ohio Theatre in February. Credit: Courtesy of Annelise Dahl

TAG students attending Motown the Musical at the Ohio Theatre in February. Credit: Courtesy of Annelise Dahl

After working alongside high school students for two years, Theatre Arts Group has become an official Ohio State student organization.

Theatre Arts Group began as a community service initiative in the fall of 2014 founded by OSU alumna Sarah Fitzpatrick. After receiving a yearlong grant from Ohio State’s P12 Initiative, which promotes collaboration between university organizations and school-aged children, the group grew and this semester became an official student organization.

Annelise Dahl, a third-year in finance, joined the group in the spring of 2015 and is currently the president of the group. Dahl had been involved in theater during her primary-school years and said she has always been interested in the production side of the arts. She said her role also includes directing the students.

The group includes about seven OSU students who work with teenagers at Columbus North International High School. It meets with them two or three times a week and offers several activities including improvisation games and taking them to see local shows.

“Improv skills are useful in any realm, even if you don’t want to be an actor,” Dahl said. “Even if you’re, say, a doctor, you use these communication skills.”

Dahl said the group’s values are teaching the students collaboration, creativity, empowerment and expression.

“It’s about teaching them the skills that are the building blocks of theater and transcend it,” Dahl said. “A lot of high school is a challenging time. Not having that kind of safe space or environment to discuss it can make it even more challenging.”

Some of the skills the group strives to teach include projection, enunciation and body language.

“Arts is important for creativity and collaboration,” Dahl said. “When I was doing my first monologues, I was blushing I was so nervous, but now it’s nothing. For people with low self-esteem, this is something the arts can help with. It’s a healthy way to address that.”

Isaac Norman, a high school senior at Columbus North, has been involved with the group since its start.

“I enjoyed the sense of camaraderie it had, I think that’s the main reason people come,” Norman said.  

For the past two years, the group has helped the students write, produce and perform their own show.

“It’s really fun to do stuff together,” Norman said. “With creating our own plays, those are basically student-led. It’s our responsibility to rehearse and make scenes and also make props and stuff. It’s a good experience.”

Dahl and Norman described the group as a peer mentorship.

“The OSU members are very helpful,” Norman said. “They give advice and stuff about school and college and really help us out.”

Looking forward, Dahl said the group hopes to expand the program beyond North Columbus to other schools, including elementary and middle schools.

“We try to take it to the next level,” Dahl said. “We’re thinking about it like, ‘This is a small thing, how do we expand this to the rest of the world, the rest of my life, my community?’”

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