From a young age, Tress Kurzym remembers wanting to learn more about theater. But her hometown in rural Texas didn’t have any programs for kids until high school.
“My real training came when I took a leap of faith and majored in theater (in college) because that’s all I thought I was good at, and I desperately wanted to do it,” she said.
Today, Kurzym, 40, teaches drama classes to children as young as 2 years old through her Edwardsville business, StagePlay Learning. She believes they walk away with the skills they’ll need in life.
“Ultimately, what I think is huge and that I’m really proud of is the empathy that they get,” Kurzym said. “... You have to literally be in the shoes of that character; You have to understand how they feel, how these different things can affect them, and then be that person.”
Kurzym founded StagePlay last January in Edwardsville. But the idea for the business came much earlier, when she lived in Houston with her husband and two children.
I believe in theater and what it can do for every human being, whether you’re Broadway bound or not.
Tress Kurzym, owner of StagePlay Learning
It took moving to the metro-east about three years ago for Kurzym to feel like the time was right to get started on it. And she found a creative partner in an unexpected place: the parent-teacher organization in her kids’ new school district, Edwardsville District 7.
“She was just hanging out as a mom PTO with me,” Kurzym said of her partner, Emily Frazier Klingensmith, “and we realized we could be doing this — something so much bigger than what we were doing at the time, which was maybe passing out Jell-O or something. Not that that’s not important.
“... We found that we worked really well together. And it was just meant to be,” she added.
While Kurzym teaches the classes on her own, the pair works together on another aspect of the business: writing original scripts to perform in classrooms and at events like school assemblies.
The business has also branched into the adult market with workshops.
“The parents have said, ‘Do you do anything like this for adults?’ and so I’ve started to do team building and training for businesses as well,” Kurzym said.
StagePlay offers professional development for teachers to learn how to bring drama-based instruction into their classrooms, too.
Kurzym’s classes are broken up into age groups: pre-kindergarten to second grade; third to fifth grade; and sixth to eighth grade. They take place in nine-week sessions on Tuesdays and Saturdays at St. John’s United Methodist Church, 7372 Marine Road, in Edwardsville.
But Kurzym said there’s not a religious affiliation to the classes. She hopes to one day own a space to continue offering classes, as well as live, interactive theater performances for families to enjoy.
The next session of classes begins March 14. The cost is $85. Parents can learn more about the classes and register their children online at stageplaylearning.com. Those interested can also request a performance, corporate training or professional development through an online form on the website.
Follow StagePlay Learning on social media for updates on classes and information about free events at Facebook.com/Stageplaylearning.
Q: Your interest is both in teaching and in theater. How did you put those two things together?
A: “My background is I have 17 years of theater education in the classroom. ... I was a classroom teacher in Texas, where I was the theater director at our school. I had no intention of leaving. I had this sort of idea for a business, kind of marinating in my head and floating around, but I was probably way too scared to quit my job and just start a business in Houston like this one. So when we moved here, I got my family acclimated, got myself acclimated to the area and then realized how much I missed teaching.
“... I believe in theater and what it can do for every human being, whether you’re Broadway bound or not; I believe there’s life skills that you can benefit from. But I always believe when you are truly a teacher, it’s like a calling, and you cannot escape it. I found myself teaching Sunday school and working here at the church and volunteering all the time at my students’ school. Then, I just decided, ‘If there was a time, this would be the time to start this business.’ I wanted to first find out, ‘Will anybody even take my class? Is anybody interested in this?’ And it’s grown exponentially, and very quickly, probably too quickly for just me to keep up with it.”
Q: How long had you been interested in theater, and where did that interest come from?
A: “Birth, probably, if you talk to my parents. … Through my training at university, I studied abroad in London, and then I worked for some professional theaters out of college. ... Those were incredible opportunities for me but they were not paid well. … To supplement my income, I started working as what is known as a teaching artist with the local theater companies. Inner city schools who had no theater program would send artists in to work with students like an after-school program. So I was being a teacher without my certification. I realized as I was sitting in these rehearsals that were eight-hour professional rehearsals — this is my job now — that I was waiting for my time to end so I could go and work with the kids in these after-school programs. And that was a huge wake-up call to me about what I should probably be doing with my life. Then I got my certification and began teaching.”
Q: What happens in a typical class at StagePlay Learning? What can kids expect to learn from you?
A: “Well, that would depend on developmentally where they are. ... Pre-k to second-graders are really working on short-form improv skills. In fact, that’s what I typically use in all of my classes. ... They also create their own scene work.
“... My third- to fifth-graders are already starting to work on monologues. Some of those kids are starting to show a preference for the arts and wanting to audition for local community theater groups, and so they get monologue training, so how to audition. ... Again, we’re still scaffolding, so there’s still those short-form improv exercises as well. My sixth- to eighth-graders, same thing: still working on monologues, still working on scene work. Instead of something simple that they’re creating, they’re working on a scene from ‘Macbeth.’”
Q: Where do you come up with the ideas for your original scripts?
A: “Having been an educator, but then also as a parent, we’re aware of the course of study that’s happening. To begin with, we just thought, ‘What would teachers want? What do they need?’ For instance, April’s coming up; It’s National Poetry Month. So we took the poems of Shel Silverstein and we created a piece called ‘She Shares Shel.’”
- Job: Owner of StagePlay Learning
- The StagePlay motto: “‘I can’t’ is not in my vocabulary. I take risks, and I conquer my fears.”