Children's Theatre Company - Neighborhood Bridges


Founded in 1997 by Peter Brosius, artistic director of the Children's Theatre Company of Minneapolis, and Jack Zipes, Professor of German and Comparative Literature at the University of Minnesota, Neighborhood Bridges is a comprehensive program of storytelling and creative drama designed to help children develop their critical literacy skills and to transform them into storytellers of their own lives.

Twenty-five students in Deanna Gerard's 3rd-grade class at Lyndale Community School are wrinkling their faces in disgust as they ply imaginary gum out of their hair and clothes in a session called Neighborhood Bridges, an educational outreach program of the Children's Theatre Company (CTC).

Earlier, they copied the gawky movements of gorillas, dainty wing flaps of butterflies and the close-to-the-ground crawl of mice, among other animals in their dramatic teams called Candy Shop, Cheetahs & Tigers, and the Champions.

CTC's Neighborhood Bridges program started about eight years ago. It connects dramatists with 18 classrooms throughout Minneapolis and St. Paul.

In two-hour weekly sessions, students

read stories, perform writing exercises and practice dramatic techniques. For instance, they work on the proper way to breathe from their diaphrams, not chests, how to modulate their voices from low to high pitches and how to move fluidly.

Neighborhood Bridges culminates in two performances, one at the school and another production on CTC's main stage. The students will vote near the end of the year on what they'll perform at CTC after they've read stories ranging from trickster tales to fairy tales.

Wendy Knox, artistic director of the Frank Theatre who is leading Gerard's class, said the class teaches children about stage presence in addition to sharpening their minds.

“It's great because we're teaching kids to ask questions of stories they're told and empowering them to tell their own stories,” she said.

Part of the fun is watching quiet students become more vocal and animated through time, she added. Some of them end up wanting to play lead roles.

Gerard's class is one of two 3rd-grade rooms at Lyndale to be involved in the program. The class is supported by funds raised from parents and grant money from CTC. As an extra perk, students attend some CTC shows for free.