Holiday Spirit

From left, actors Caitlyn Louchard, Brandon Leland and Davied Morales perform "Oskar and the Countless Costume Changes," a play about gender roles, for students at Nixon Elementary School on Feb. 29, 2016. Photo by Veronica Weber.

Posted Dec. 27, 2016

TheatreWorks encourages playful learning, creativity
Nonprofit is more than a theater, offers programs at little or no cost to kids

by Karla Kane

"All the world's a stage," according to the king of theater, William Shakespeare. TheatreWorks Silicon Valley has taken that concept to heart by fostering theater skills and creative thinking throughout the community, offstage as well as on, in sometimes unexpected ways (during a kindergarten lesson on goldfish anatomy, for instance).

This is the TheatreWorks that audiences don't see: the wide range of programs for youth and kids, often available at little or no cost to the schools and organizations involved.

This past year, thanks in part to the $7,500 grant it received from the Holiday Fund, TheatreWorks was able to develop a new Playing with Science curriculum for elementary school students as part of its Concepts at Play program.

Concepts at Play brings TheatreWorks teaching artists into local schools (including, in Palo Alto to Barron Park, Duveneck, El Carmelo, Escondido, Greendell, Juana Briones, Nixon, Palo Verde and Walter Hays elementary schools) for 10-day residencies. Students, teachers and teaching artists work together on building collaborative skills, engaging their creativity and exploring core subjects in physically active -- in other words, playful -- ways.

Children, especially young children, learn best through play, so Concepts at Play features a variety of games to boost both fun and learning, according to TheatreWorks staff.

Actors Davied Morales and Caitlyn Louchard perform a scene from "Oskar and the Countless Costume Changes," in which Morales' character, Frank, plays a "smart princess" and Louchard's character, Beth, plays a "brave knight." Photo by Veronica Weber.
"I think what holds true in most cities is also true in Palo Alto: Each student is a unique learner," TheatreWorks Director of Education Amy Cole-Farrell told the Weekly. "Concepts at Play allows students to learn core concepts in science, math and language arts in a kinesthetic and fun way, tapping into self-expression and esteem."

Jen Tai, a kindergarten teacher at Duveneck Elementary School, has been utilizing Concepts at Play in her classroom for years.

"It is a different way of learning and teaching, but I love it," she said.

As part of its science curriculum, her class observes goldfish and guppies, comparing and contrasting their structures. With a game called "Build and Break," the students take turns coming to the middle of the room and acting as a part of the fish with their bodies and announcing which part they're portraying.

"I am the fin of the fish," one might say, while the next may add on by saying, "I am the gills of the fish." Once that fish is "built," the group then "breaks" so others can take a turn.

The games, Tai said, involve aspects of "voice, body and imagination," which the TheatreWorks teaching artists call three tools in an actor's toolbox.

"Many of the games incorporate focus skills. We also work on eye contact, a big social skill that can be hard for this age group," Tai explained.

Another example, which also fosters teamwork and concentration, is "Pass the Clap," in which the class forms a circle, then must take turns leading, getting the person next to them to clap in unison with them, without using words.

Tai said she's seen the impact the games have on learning. When she began incorporating spelling words into the games, for example, she saw a huge spike in her students recognizing those words and spelling them correctly later on.

The Holiday Fund grant also helps support TheatreWorks' many other projects. In-school performances of the "Oskar" series, for example, help elementary school students explore tough issues, such as gender identity and bullying, in entertaining, humorous ways. At Lucile Packard Children's Hospital, TheatreWorks teaching artists work with patients and their families as part of the Children's Healing Project, offering creative workshops and imagination games throughout the hospital's units. This year, it was able to expand its program for patients in the eating-disorders unit at the Children's Hospital's branch at El Camino Hospital in Mountain View and create a new "Oskar" touring assembly.

From left, actors Caitlyn Louchard, Brandon Leland and Davied Morales perform "Oskar and the Countless Costume Changes," a play about gender roles, for students at Nixon Elementary School on Feb. 29, 2016. Photo by Veronica Weber.
Aspiring playwrights at Palo Alto and Gunn high schools (among others) have benefited from the mentoring of established writers, who help develop the students' ideas and bring them to life with the Young Playwright's Project. TheatreWorks also offers two-week Young Storytellers Labs; student matinees with accompanying study guides and workshops; summer and vacation camps; and a professional-development institute for teachers on how to integrate arts into their core curricula.

Before incorporating the Concepts at Play games into her classes, Tai underwent training, observing TheatreWorks teaching artists at summer camps and then learning their techniques. In her 15 years as a teacher in the Palo Alto district, she said, it's the best training she's ever received.

One of Tai's favorite Concepts at Play programs is Playing with Poetry, which she will do with her current class in March. In this program, a TheatreWorks teaching artist comes into the classroom for an hour a day for two weeks, during which the class is divided into groups, with each learning -- through games -- a part of a poem they choose together (a previous favorite in Tai's class was Sandra Boynton's "Barnyard Dance").

At the end of the two weeks, the class recites and acts out its poem for an audience of parents, teachers and peers.

"Every year I worry my kids won't memorize the poem in time," Tai admitted, but "the whole-body movements and the games keep the kids engaged. They always perform and amaze me," she said.

Apply for a Holiday Fund Grant

Nonprofits serving children and families may apply for funds by downloading our Grant Application Guidelines and Grant Application Form. Application deadline: 11:59 p.m. on Friday, January 13, 2023.

Make a donation
2022 Recipient Agency

49ers Academy$10,000

AbilityPath$10,000

Able Works$10,000

Ada's Cafe$25,000

Adolescent Counseling Services$7,500

Art in Action$10,000

Bay Area Friendship Circle$5,000

Beyond Barriers Athletic Foundation$5,000

Big Brothers Big Sisters
of the Bay Area
$10,000

Blossom Birth & Family$5,000

Canopy$5,000

CASA of San Mateo County$5,000

Children's Health Council$10,000

Christmas Bureau of Palo Alto$5,000

Community Legal Services in East Palo Alto$10,000

Counseling and Support Services for Youth - CASSY$15,000

DreamCatchers$15,000

East Palo Alto Academy Foundation$10,000

East Palo Alto Charter School$5,000

East Palo Alto Kids Foundation$15,000

East Palo Alto Tennis and Tutoring$15,000

East Palo Alto YMCA$10,000

Eastside College
Preparatory School
$7,500

EPACENTER$10,000

Family Connections$7,500

Fit Kids Foundation$5,000

Foundation for a
College Education
$10,000

Fresh Approach$10,000

Friends for Youth$5,000

Friends of the Palo Alto Junior Museum & Zoo$10,000

Heart and Home Collaborative$10,000

Hope Horizon East Palo Alto$7,500

Jasper Ridge Farm$5,000

Kara$15,000

Learning Home Volunteers$10,000

Live In Peace$10,000

Magical Bridge Foundation$10,000

Mannakin Theater & Dance$5,000

Marine Science Institute$5,000

Midpen Media Center$7,500

Music in the Schools Foundation$8,000

My New Red Shoes$5,000

New Voices for Youth$5,000

Pacific Art League of Palo Alto$12,000

Palo Alto Art Center Foundation$10,000

Palo Alto Community Child Care $30,000

Palo Alto Players$10,000

Peer Point$20,000

Peninsula Bridge$10,000

Peninsula College Fund$10,000

Peninsula Healthcare Connection$10,000

Peninsula Volunteers$15,000

Peninsula Youth Theatre$5,000

Pursuit of Excellence Scholarship Foundation$20,000

Ravenswood Classroom Partners$20,000

Ravenswood Education Foundation$10,000

Reading Partners
Silicon Valley
$10,000

ReadySetExcel$5,000

Rebuilding Together Peninsula$7,500

Resource Area for
Teaching (RAFT)
$5,000

Rich May Foundation$5,000

Rise Together Education$10,000

Ronald McDonald House$5,000

Rosalie Rendu Center$5,000

Sager Family Farm$5,000

Silicon Valley
Urban Debate League
$7,500

St. Elizabeth Seton School$10,000

TheatreWorks$5,000

UNAFF (United Nations Association Film Festival)$10,000

WeHOPE$15,000

WomenSV$7,500

Youth Community Service$25,000

Child Care Grants

All Five$10,000

Covenant Children's Center$10,000

Creative Montessori
Learning Center
$10,000

Grace Lutheran Preschool$10,000

Palo Alto Friends Nursery School$10,000

Parents Nursery School$10,000


As of November 29th, 77 donors have contributed $65,407 to the Holiday Fund.
* indicates amount withheld at donor's request

8 Anonymous2,960
Elaine Hah1,500
Susan & Doug Woodman150
Freddy & Jan Gabus250
Kingston Duffie & Elizabeth Schwerer500
Margaret Forsyth and Glenn Rennels*
Richard & Pat Douglas50
Jerry & Bobbie Wagger*
Mahlon & Carol Hubenthal*
Paul & Jane Millman250
Bruce Campbell*
Fran Codispoti250
Judy Kramer*
Elizabeth Salzer & Richard Baumbartner*
Penny & Greg Gallo500
Donald Price*
Judy Ousterhout*
Roy & Carol Blitzer*
Marian Adams100
Kroymann Family250
Carolyn Caddes*
Sally & Craig Nordlund500
Barbara Riper*
Katherine Bryant100
Eileen & Rick Brooks1,000
Roger & Joan Warnke300
Charlotte Johansen200
Leo & Marlys Keoshian250
Donna Silverberg100
John Keller100
Ed & Linda DeMeo500
The Dong Family200
Jack and Susan Thomas*
Julie and Jon Jerome*
Marcia & Michael Katz200
Andrea B. Smith100
Scottie Zimmerman100
Leif and Sharon Erickson500
Ted & Ginny Chu*
The Havern Family5,000
Scott and Jan Kilner500
Dorothy Saxe100
Kieschnick family1,000
Bill Reller*
Harry E & Susan B Hartzell100
Art and Peggy Stauffer500
Dorothy Deringer200
Barbara Klein*
Ann Burrell & Charles Smith*
Janis Ulevich*
Theradep Technologies500
Gwen Luce and Family*
In Memory Of

David W. Mitchell*
Robert Spinrad100
Er-Ying and Y.C. Yen250
Ray Bacchetti300
Lily & Philip Gottheiner150
Jim and Dottie Mellberg*
Gerald Berner300
Steven T. Ross100
Phil Zschokke200
Ruth & Chet Johnson*
In Honor Of

Joe Simitian*
Darla Tupper3,922
Businesses & Organizations

Alta Mesa Cemetery & Funeral Home2,500
Palo Alto Business Park*
Arrillaga Foundation10,000
Angelo Family Foundation 5,000
Peery Foundation10,000

Past Holiday Fund Grant Recipients

2018-2019 | 2017-2018 | 2016-2017 | 2015-2016 | 2014-2015 | 2013-2014 | 2012-2013 | 2011-2012 | 2010-2011 | 2009-2010 | 2008-2009 | 2007-2008 | 2006-2007 | 2005-2006 | 2004-2005 | 2003-2004 | 2002-2003 | 2001-2002 | 2000-2001 | 1999-2000