West Middle School students spread message of connection with production of “Boat”

SUBMITTED BY ANNA C. DOLAN

When the cast and crew of the West Middle School production of “Boat” started rehearsals in September, they quickly realized that the play had a powerful message.

“The message is that we’re all in the same boat and to find connections with other people that you might not usually find connections with,” said actor Brenna Conley, who is a seventh grader at West.

“It’s all about community and empathy and making connections,” added West drama teacher Jen Brickley. “It’s centered around the idea of ‘we are all in the same boat’ and trying to understand what other people are going through.”

During their two months of afterschool rehearsals, the students realized they wanted to share the message of “Boat” through their performance and through other means as well. So, they decided to host an art and writing contest around the theme of “We’re all in the same boat.” They let the West student body know that anyone could enter a piece of art or writing that shared their thoughts or feelings about the theme.

The cast and crew received some three dozen entries, which they displayed in the hallway outside of the theater, where students, staff, and families could enjoy them. They also evaluated the entries and selected three winners, one from each grade level. Cast member Brenna Conley’s drawing was awarded first place for seventh grade.  It shows two girls in a boat who are hugging each other. Next to each of them is a ghost of someone they loved and lost.

“Because they both lost somebody, they’re finding connections through that… They’re comforting each other,” Conley explained. “I want people to take away that if you lose somebody, it can be really hard, but you’ll get through it, and you should have friends that will be there with you, because it will make it a lot easier.”

Friendships are one of the most important parts of the West Middle School Wildcat Drama program, which exemplifies the Cherry Creek Schools Core Values of Engagement and Relationships.

“Theater is a place where kids can find a place to fit and find a family and make some of those connections,” Brickley said. “As we’re here practicing, we form bonds that are different than we might make in our regular day. That is as important, if not more important, than the end-all production.”

The 60 students involved in “Boat” agree.

“It’s very fun, just awesome,” said eighth-grader Luna Valentine, about being part of the “Boat” tech crew. “We’re techies, so we help make things… props, make-up, design, costumes, and more.”

“I thought it would be fun,” said seventh-grader Celia Hallberg, who was participating in her first theater production. “I think the community here is just really great. I’m able to hang out with my friends and put on a great show.”

The “Boat” cast and crew also did a community service project as part of their production. During each show, they staffed a concession stand that offered beverages and snacks. They raised $1,000 for a local non-profit organization.

“Family Promise of Greater Denver is a homeless shelter and organization,” Hallberg explained. “They help prevent homelessness and help families who are experiencing homelessness.”

When the “Boat” performances on Dec. 8 and 9 were over, everyone involved in the production felt that they had accomplished their goal to put on a great show and share an important message about connection and compassion.

“I’ve seen a change in the people around me,” said seventh-grader Rylen Haar. “They’re more empathetic towards other people, they’re more understanding, and they very much got the message about we’re all in this together.”