In a new partnership with Kaiser Permanente, Metro State theatre students are embodying department chair Marilyn (Cookie) Hetzel’s mantra that “theatre is equipment for living.” Beginning in the fall, Metro State students have been part of a touring company that performs an educational, entertaining show warning elementary-school children about the dangers of obesity.
“The Kaiser Permanente partnership is a perfect blend,” says Hetzel, who in her 20 years at Metro State has often found opportunities to integrate theatre into the community. “Our students get to test their chops, so to speak, in a professional, commercial enterprise that’s dedicated to social change.”
Kaiser Permanente’s Educational Theatre Program (ETP) has used the power of theatre to teach public school students important health and safety messages for 25 years. “The schools know and love what we do,” says ETP supervisor Brian Harper. So much so that the Denver-based ETP performance troupe, totaling only 10 professional actors and a handful of support staff, found that the demand for its performances was exceeding their availability.
“When they (ETP) approached me,” says Hetzel, “they had explored with several other (college) programs the possibility of doing this. But our department’s approach resonated with theirs. We’re both community-minded.”
“We’ve had touring companies in the past,” Hetzel says, “so I knew what the demands were. And I was looking to reinstate our touring company. So everything fit.”
The Metro State students work as a stand-alone troupe, with two ETP staff, to perform a show called Health Team 4.
The partnership has yielded benefits for everyone involved. The ETP gains the ability to double its impact in the community by forming, in effect, another touring company. The Metro State actors get to perform as part of a touring ensemble, earn college credit, build their resumes with professional experience and earn a stipend. And the public schools get important public health messages delivered in creative ways.
“It’s been really successful because of the theatre program at Metro State,” says Amy Burtaine, one of ETP’s project team members. “Cookie wants these students to represent the school in the best way. She instills these (professional) skills in them beforehand. They don’t show up late. They have a wonderful work ethic.”
ETP Supervisor Harper agrees. “Now we’re able to come back to each school the very next year with the same health message, delivered in a different, innovative way… (The partnership) has solved a community need by solving our needs.”
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