When 16-year-old Tyler Slaughter watches the young actors on shows such as "Seventh Heaven" and "My Wife and Kids," one thought runs through his head: If they can do it, I can do it, too.
"I want my own TV show — any TV show, as long as I'm on TV," says Slaughter, a freshman at Collinwood High School in Cleveland. Although he's always longed for the spotlight, Slaughter never got involved in drama programs at school.
"I was shy," he recalls. "I just stayed in the corner."
That is, until an adult friend signed him up for an acting workshop at the library. From there he heard about Cleveland Public Theatre's Student Theatre Enrichment Program, an after-school curriculum for students ages 14 to 19.
The free program teaches theatrical movement, scriptwriting, set design and other fundamentals to about 30 participants, most of whom attend the Cleveland public schools. Before joining the program, the majority had never seen a professional theater production; now they have the opportunity to preview CPT shows each month.
STEP Director Chris Seibert acknowledges that not every participant dreams of a career in the arts, but she says the program teaches universal skills such as communication and punctuality.
"We think of it as just crucial to the development of a human being," Seibert says. She credits STEP with helping to fill the artistic void that school budget cuts have created.
Slaughter isn't crazy about the hourlong bus ride he takes three times a week to get to the theater, but he values the confidence he's gained since joining STEP in the summer.
This month, there's an added incentive for Slaughter to make the trek. ISH, a performing-arts group from the Netherlands, will conduct an intensive two-week workshop to train the teens in break dancing, martial arts, inline skating and more. The group will be in town for the 27th International Performing Arts for Youth conference, which Playhouse Square is hosting Jan. 19 through 22. Theconference allows people in the theater industry to preview kid-friendly shows that are available for future bookings. On the last night of the event, STEP members will perform a demo of their new skills before ISH takes the stage.
"I always wanted to learn how to break dance," Slaughter says. "I think it's going to be a great experience because they come from Amsterdam and all over the world. I get to see how different people work."