PHOEBE KALLAHER/SAGAMORE STAFF
The computer brightness gleams on every individual’s eager face. The “recording” button flickers at the top left of the screen. Actors flood their virtual confinement cells. Finally, it’s showtime.
By creating a sense of a community for students, level-three drama classes Needs Improvment and BETCo (Brookline Educational Theatre Company) help shape students’ confidence in themselves, tackling numerous obstacles in various forms of engaging entertainment.
Drama teacher Mark VanDerzee lives to challenge convention and change the world through theater. VanDerzee believes that the skills taught in drama classes, particularly in terms of being empathetic and learning to listen to other people, prepare students to take on any curve balls thrown at them beyond high school.
“Both classes are focused on student-generated work. In Needs Improvment, that work is created the moment that it is performed,” VanDerzee said. “BETCo operates differently. It is student-generated work as well, and that work might start with improvisation, but then move towards scripted work.”
VanDerzee first became involved with Needs Improvment when a student asked VanDerzee to advise the newly-created X-block club. Soon enough, there started to be enough demand that VanDerzee was asked to teach the class in order to accommodate the many students interested in taking it.
Junior Sammy Yee has been involved with Needs Improvment since the beginning of the school year.
“Improv always seemed really fun to me, and I’m glad I’m taking it now since I challenge myself every day in that class,” Yee said.
Besides Needs Improvment’s constant push to help students grow, the class also makes it possible for students with various theatrical experiences to inspire one another.
“The older kids in that class have taught me so much. Just watching them do improv teaches me so much every day,” Yee said. “I learned that they don’t worry about what they’re doing, they just go ahead and do whatever comes into their minds, and they do it well.”
Unlike Needs Improvment, BETCo has existed long before VanDerzee started teaching in Brookline. In BETCo, students work to bring light to various social issues around the world.
“Addressing these various social issues going on in the world today creates conversation about difficult topics, and there is nothing better than being able to prepare students to bring the element of conversation into the world,” VanDerzee said.
Currently, BETCo students have been working on writing scenes for their upcoming performance, focusing on mental health issues. Junior Emma Sheola takes inspiration from her classmates when writing her scenes. One of Sheola’s originally written scenes centers around a teenage girl’s anxiety in the form of text messages received throughout the day.
Sheola said it’s beneficial to have a community of people in BETCo who can work together to improve one another’s scenes.
“It’s helpful to have other people there who know what they’re doing and those who can help and support me. I really enjoy that aspect,” Sheola said.
Reflecting upon the uncertainties that come with any performance, VanDerzee says his favorite shows tend to be the ones that make him really uncomfortable, especially those moments where he doesn’t know how the audience is going to react.
“My favorite performance has to be the Improv battle,” VanDerzee said. “I say that because the current class has had the most time to develop as an ensemble, since the battle is the last performance for the seniors. I also love the battle because it is when the alumni come back to visit and perform with the current class.”
Additionally, VanDerzee said that an important factor to both BETCo and Needs Improvment is the differing dynamics that students are exposed to.
“My favorite part about teaching BETCo and Needs Improvment is the fun that we are able to have, alongside the seriousness of purpose that we are able to work with,” VanDerzee said.