How One Local Drama Teacher Sets the Stage for a Lifetime of Learning

Over the past few years, kids who may have never been drawn to the theater before have been rapping nonstop about the nation’s first Secretary of the Treasury. Others have watched as fellow kids channel their inner rock stars to transform their classroom into the ultimate arena show rehearsal.

But the stars of Broadway’s Hamilton and School of Rock couldn’t inspire a new generation of thespians without being inspired themselves by the theatre teachers who helped them discover their voice and unleash their confidence.

While the arts are imperative to a child’s learning, tightening budgets have limited the amount of programming kids receive at school – or eliminated it altogether. According to the study Arts Education in Public Elementary and Secondary Schools, 55 percent of high schools and 96 percent of elementary schools lack theatre classes.

Some schools may offer drama as a club or extracurricular activity, but many auditoriums continue to sit empty. For Tress Kurzym of Edwardsville, a theatre teacher and mom to two, that wouldn’t stand. In turn, she created StagePlay Learning, an all-ages drama program to help kids build the empathy, understanding, and skills only theatre can provide.

The importance of theatre on a child’s development

For years, Kurzym, who has a BFA in directing, worked as an assistant director for famed theaters in Milwaukee, and as a teaching artist for programs across Texas. Her love for teaching others eventually led her to the classroom where she guided an award-winning high school drama program.

It’s her one-on-one connection with students that truly personified the impact theatre has on a child’s cognitive development, social skills, and emotional growth.

“Kids at a young age are starting to learn about creative problem solving,” Kurzym said. “We live in a world that’s built around immediate gratification, and if a child feels like they failed, they don’t see a chance to fix it. With arts programs, especially theatre, kids have the opportunity to try something, and if they fail at first, they find new outlets to improvise, think fast and try again. They learn to turn ‘oops’ into ‘eurekas’ – which we see happen all the time in the arts!”

In addition, according to Kurzym, theatre helps kids better recognize social cues and instills discipline that extends to all other areas of learning. It’s also “an education gym for empathy,” placing actors in someone else’s shoes so they can identify with people different from them.

Even more incredible is the effect theatre has on a child long after he or she leaves school. “Statistics from the Educational Theatre Association show CEO’s are hiring people with backgrounds in drama. The world of theatre really models a corporation – you may work in marketing, in ticketing or on stage, but you share the vision of your director – or CEO. Collectively, you work on small teams, but at the end you release a final product out to the world. That’s really something amazing.”

Helping fill a gap in education

After moving to the Metro East in 2014, Kurzym quickly learned the opportunities for theatre training during the school year was limited, and in many cases, nonexistent. She knew missing out on crucial arts programming could be detrimental to a child’s overall learning process, and as a mom, wanted to do something to help.

In 2015, she launched StagePlay Learning in Edwardsville, a 9-week series of drama classes for kids of all ages. Each week, participants are introduced to theatre skills and dramatic games. And all students – even the youngest – learn to create a scene they can showcase at the end of their session. Through StagePlay, all kids get the opportunity to be a writer, actor and director, and discover the talents that may be hidden inside.

“StagePlay allows kids who are Broadway-bound to get the theatre training they need,” Kurzym explained. “But even more important, it allows kids to just have fun and play while building social, listening and problem-solving skills. Too many kids spend their days on their tablet creating worlds on Minecraft – we just take that same philosophy offline and let them do it on stage through creative play and with each other.”

Katie Robberson of Edwardsville has seen first-hand the impact theatre education has on a child. Her seven-year-old daughter, Emmie, has participated in StagePlay for two sessions, plus its summer camp.

“Tress has helped Emmie build her confidence and presence. She’s a dancer and has done a musical at her school, and handled both with grace after being in Tress’s class. Emmie loves StagePlay because it allows her to be creative and have fun – and use her imagination, which she loves.”

In addition to teaching, Kurzym offers StagePlay Learning Productions, which provides assemblies at schools. She also runs StagePlay Solutions, which provides drama-based instruction for teachers and ensemble and team building classes for businesses to help boost their employees’ cooperation, sales skills and creative problem-solving.

To learn more about Stage Play or to register for one of Kurzym’s programs, visit the website at, call (832) 693-6745 or email her at


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