ELBURN – Tracy Whiteside said it's more important than ever to help children learn how to build self-esteem.
"With all the bullying, I get so many children whose parents tell me how they're bullied at school, or didn't make the football team or the school play," she said. "While I understand life's not always fair, I think those kids need some extra attention and deserve [to participate] just as much as anybody."
Whiteside said theater is a natural self-esteem builder, which is why theater is at the center of her new nonprofit organization, GodStage. She said the program is an offshoot of another nonprofit organization she founded, the Self-Esteem for Life Foundation, which formed in 2011.
"I think the greatest joy I get out of children's theater is how it builds self-esteem," she said.
She said the intent of the new six-week theater program, which hosts classes in Elburn, Naperville and Aurora, is to build self-esteem and basic life skills by practicing respect, loyalty, patience and compassion. Whiteside said the program is loosely based on nondenominational faith because she said she feels the two go hand-in-hand.
"... There are certain tenants of religion that I feel build children's self-esteem through the theater – all the life skills of meeting deadlines and working as a team," she said. "We'll meet every week and learn lines, songs and dances, but within that context, we'll also talk about working as a team, being supportive of each other and, you know, being loyal, being patient and committed to the outcome."
The classes are geared toward children in second through eighth grade, or roughly ages 7 to 13, she said.
Whiteside said this season's performance will be "Cinderella." Classes are two hours a week and hold a maximum of 15 students to ensure each child gets enough attention, she said, adding that it's especially important to give each child equal stage time.
"If you're going to be teaching self-esteem to children, you need to treat everyone equally," she said. "It's not so much focusing on the performance as it is on the experience and the values."
Whiteside, who also serves as education manager at Fox Valley Repertory Theater in St. Charles, said she has more than 15 years of experience working with theater students. She has directed more than 50 musicals, taught at Elgin Community College and Christian Youth Theater and has directed and produced plays through the First Street Playhouse in Geneva, where she serves as a board member.
GodStage meets from 2 to 4 p.m. on Sundays from Nov. 3 through Dec. 15 at the Elburn & Countryside Community Center, 525 N. Main St., Elburn. Tuition is $99, and advance registration is required. Information is available at www.selfoundation.org/godstage-elburn.
For information about the Elburn branch of GodStage, a youth theater group that helps build self-esteem, visit www.selfoundation.org/godstage-elburn or call Tracy Whiteside at 630-234-9506.