Matthew Bretschneider and Stefanie Resnick are a pair of clowns – literally. Before they founded Studio Playground, a theatrical workshop for children and adults, the two actors met at a clowning workshop, led by renowned pantomime Christopher Bayes. This was spring 2020, at the height of the COVID lockdown, and the sessions took place online. Despite the virtual interaction, Bretschneider and Resnick realized they had much in common, including a desire to work with young children. “We saw how powerful the clowning work was, as far as creating community, a sense of connection, a sense of relief during a difficult time,” remembers Resnick.
That summer, the pair started teaching their own classes over Zoom, working mainly with kids. Resnick was based in New York City and Bretschneider in Providence, and the pandemic loomed larger than ever. Yet the two performers were able to engage young participants with song, dance, and improv games. The extroverted curriculum helped kids stay social and confident at a time of extreme isolation.
“If you go on stage and make someone laugh, you’ll boost their serotonin, you’ll boost their endorphins, you’ll relieve their stress, you’ll speed up their immune system,” says Bretschneider. “So the idea is, if you’re feeling nervous to go on stage, it’s an act of generosity. It’s an act of bravery. You can change the world that way.”
This sentiment is the bedrock philosophy of Studio Playground, which will soon start its third summer. The program has grown exponentially: the original session had about 22 kids in total; now, they expect 70 or 80 over the course of the summer. Studio Playground partners with a range of organizations, such as Moses Brown, the Boys & Girls Club, and the Providence Children’s Museum. They have added after-school sessions, along with classes for adults. The team of mentors includes more than a dozen professional performers.
Most classes cater to kids ages five to 12, and the summer program mostly takes place outside, in Lincoln Woods State Park. Exercises and activities gradually coalesce into a final performance for friends and families. The presentation is a nice way to celebrate all their work together, but the lasting value of Studio Playground is its social-emotional impact. The founders notice families from different backgrounds organizing playdates, and they hear about theatrical skills seeping into other pursuits, such as after-school sports.
This kind of coaching comes naturally to both. Bretschneider has taught for the likes of Rhode Island College and Trinity Repertory Company. Resnick, a veteran nanny and adjunct instructor, still works as an actress in New York, but she reserves her summers for Studio Playground.
“I love that I get to come to Rhode Island for the summer and do this outdoor camp,” says Resnick. “There are moments when I see the kids running around and screaming and dancing, and I’m like, ‘Whoa, we made this giant celebration happen.’ This is where my heart is right now. We’re trying to spread the laughter wherever we can.” Learn more at StudioPlayground.org
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