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A local theater troupe explores themes of inclusion and exclusion.

Theater is entertaining and often instructive, but Corbin Brashear knows it can also be therapeutic. Through her organization, Kindness Matters Youth Theater, Corbin formed a theater group with Applegate Valley kids. The group recently pulled together a production that explores the difficult themes of inclusion and exclusion‑emotions many can relate to. Performing the play was the goal, which they achieved at Pacifica Gardens in June 2023. However, the performance was not the only goal.

“I mainly wanted to have kids really connect more deeply with each other,” Corbin said. “The performance was the icing on top.”

A Greater Applegate awarded Corbin an Innovation Grant because her educational project fits in with the Vibrant & Livable portion of the Applegate Valley Vision. Over the years of 2019 and 2020, A Greater Applegate held listening sessions throughout the Applegate Valley to hear what residents wanted for the valley’s future. The resulting 89-page Vision document outlines the goals and strategies for realizing that vision.

The theater group  created an adaptation of the children’s book, Giraffes Can’t Dance. In this story,  a giraffe gets teased by a little cricket who says he can’ dance, but in the end he discovers his own way to dance.

To make the play more bioregion-appropriate, the students  took some creative license and swapped out the giraffe for a turtle and enlisted other animals from the Applegate Valley to tell the story.

They also wrote their own play called The Problem with Pollinators about a cliquey group of queen bees, hummingbirds and butterflies.

Corbin used the Innovation grant for set props and materials, as well as to hire development and production help from the community. She hired Clair Highfield to be the assistant director, and Aimee Dietrick of Rae of Light studio to help with choreography. Amy helped them craft a “hysterical bee dance” set to the Neil Diamond song, Dance of the Bumblebee and a dance to Dolly Parton’s Love is like a Butterfly.

“It was a blast,” Corbin says. “The kids loved that!”

They also enlisted the help of Liselle Vetsch from the local theater troupe, The Little Apple Players, for stage design and set-up during the dress rehearsals.

Finally, some of the money went toward tuition scholarships for the kids.

Corbin’s priority was to help the theater troupe to connect with the help of trust-building games and bonding exercises. She encouraged them to share stories about the times they felt included and excluded, and then inspired them to create vignettes to portray those moments.

Once that trust was established, they started working on the theater production. Corbin explains that it was healing for the kids to experience  and work through their shared emotions.

The group staged their performances along Pacifica Garden’s Art Nature Trail during their Festival in the Forest. The Festival also featured a dance performance by Aimee Dietrich’s Rae of light dancers and the band Cut the Rug. Diana Coogle recited poetry , Harmony Hainey sang kids songs, and Geri Littlejohn played Native American flute in the madrone grove. There were also children’s activities and a fairy village. Pacifica hopes to make Festival in the Forest an annual family-friendly event.

The Kindness Matters theater group would like to eventually bring their plays to the Applegate schools. The message of inclusion has a lot to offer everyone, especially after  the pandemic, which Corbin feels led to kids losing some of their ability to really relate to teach other.

“This is a way of offering a lens of kindness and what kindness can do. It addresses how to treat each other in the world.”