Student Spotlight: Mo Kim

Confidence, Compassion, and Creativity from the Student Theater Advancing Growth and Empowerment

A little secret: I’ve never done theater. I used to run out of rooms at the sound of my own voice, and I didn’t grow up seeing protagonists I could imagine myself in. The biggest role I played in any production prior to college was Tree #1. So, when I found myself my freshman fall in an auditorium with two other Harvard students and nine ten-year-olds as we all flapped our arms like, uh, cowboy pterodactyls…well, let’s just say the terror bulging through my eyes wasn’t a character choice.

When students stumble across our booth at the PBHA Activities Fair, the first thing we tell them about STAGE (Student Theater Advancing Growth and Empowerment) is that you don’t need to do theater to teach it. What you do need is confidence, compassion, and creativity. The confidence helps with the teaching, where you discuss ideas about narrative and performance that are new even to you. Here, we delve into why some characters are more compelling than others, how to improvise the next line in a scene with no script, and what “downstage left” means. The compassion helps on the days kids are rolling their eyes in exhaustion or shying back from sharing their ideas, and you remember that sometimes you feel the same way, too. The creativity helps just about everything. But, mostly, it keeps the laughter and the energy going—from the first lesson in September to the final show in May, which the kids write, stage, and perform on their own.

The best part, though, isn’t the show (although you can guarantee that nine out of ten times, it will become a romance-comedy horror). It’s the gradual realization with each passing week that your kids can teach you more about those three things than you could ever hope. There’s Angela, who has the kind of swagger fourth-graders have cornered and finds herself leading games without even thinking of it. There’s Ali, whose voice booms loudest when she’s reminding everybody to listen to what Mira has to say. There’s Lizzy, who likes to show me the ladybugs she’s doodled in the margins of her script and insists that her character must be a “gentle babysitter.” For every time there’s a squabble over how The Three Little Pigs actually ended, there’s a time they speak up for themselves, take a risk with a story, or make space for another friend to shine.

I still don’t love the sound of my own voice, and I’m learning how to feel comfortable in my own body. But I know I won’t get there alone—it takes a community to support you onto the stage of your life. Lucky for me, every Wednesday afternoon, I get to take the T down to Dorchester and see kids beginning to carry themselves the way they imagine their heroes would; kids growing excited as they write a story bigger than any one of them into being. Kids learning all the ways there are to use their voices.