Stage of life: acting out issues Theater: A Columbia man takes his one-man show to area schools and uses drama to help children work through problems of self-esteem and peer pressure.

July 28, 1996|By Alex Gordon | Alex Gordon,SUN STAFF

Alan Rubinstein remembers his childhood growing pains well. So well, in fact, that for nine years now he has been helping youth of all ages get through theirs.

"I felt that, growing up, I was picked on a lot," recalls the Columbia resident, 42, whose one-man show of song and interactive drama visited Mayfield Woods Middle School in Elkridge last week. "I always felt that I'd like to do something professionally to show kids they are not alone in feeling that way."

Since 1987, Rubinstein has done just that. Through Involvement Theater, he helps audience members address and solve everyday problems such as peer pressure, decision-making and self-esteem by having them work out the problems among themselves.

The innovative approach has visibly positive effects, says Rubinstein, whose interest in theater was piqued in high school and continued in Oberlin College, where he majored in music education.

"The creative drama is a more effective approach because it has kids relate the problems to their peers, rather than lecturing to them," he said. "Kids have to solve the problem through skits and discussion. And through the roles they play, they learn how to make good choices."

Rubinstein takes his nonprofit theater's show on the road throughout Maryland, Pennsylvania, Virginia and Washington, performing 150 programs at 80 schools each year, in grades ranging from kindergarten through 12th grade.

This summer, Rubinstein is visiting Howard County teen program sites under the sponsorship of the Howard County Department of Parks and Recreation.

The most recent visit was to the Mayfield Woods Middle School (( Teenscape, where Rubinstein captivated 25 students by allowing them to take center stage. They welcomed the problem-solving experience.

"It's good because you actually got to act and tell what you think," said Jackie Boehm, 13, of Columbia.

In one skit, a child brings a bad report card to his parents, but dTC blames the "unfair" teacher for his academic woes. After being told by his father not to talk back, the student quipped, "Well, don't talk back to me!"

After the skit, Rubinstein had the children discuss and offer solutions to the problem.

For Chris Wilkes, 10, of Columbia, who played the under-achieving student, the scenario rang true.

"If I get a bad grade, I sometimes get yelled at," he said. "I learned that you should take responsibility to get a better grade and not blame the teacher. People need to learn that bad things happen and they need to learn how to deal with their problems."

Acting out the situations, the young participants agreed, was the most enjoyable part of solving the problems presented.

"It's fun because we got to act like adults and everything," said LaTroyia Holmes, 10, of Columbia. "It helps you feel like what it's gonna be like when you grow up."

"When Chris brung home four Fs, I went berserk -- I was mad," added a grinning Donald Davis, 11, of Columbia, who played a father in the skit.

For Rubinstein, each performance brings the opportunity to reach a new audience -- the faces of the children may change, but the problems facing them do not.

"The way I look at it is that if I can get one person to make good choices, then all the work has been worthwhile," he said.

For information about Involvement Theater, call Alan Rubinstein at (410) 964-3155 or (301) 854-3975.

Pub Date: 7/28/96

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