When children head to the Saugerties chapter of the Boys and Girls Club after school in the evenings, they receive more than simply homework help and supervision. Through a program called Royals, they are also learning performance skills.
The group was formed when director AnnChris Warren came to the club nearly five years ago. With a background in the fine and performing arts, she initially envisioned a drama club, but the group has evolved into more of a glee club over time. Its initial performance for the Boys and Girls Club youth of the year ceremony gave them their first taste of being on stage, and also their name.
The group performed the song “Royals” by Lorde, with the lyrics changed to relate to the Boys and Girls Club. The members decided the moniker suited them, and it has stuck ever since.
Since then, the group has performed at the Sawyer Motors Car Show, Holiday in the Village and the Mum Festival, among other events. Some 15 or 16 regular participants between the ages of six and eleven come to the hour-long sessions every week. Others rotate in and out, depending on the other activities in which they are involved.
The Royals is a serious program, Warren emphasizes to the participants. They need to take it seriously, singing out during every session. For the most part, she says, the students are more than willing to put in the work. The group members are self-starters. They are the ones who, prior to their weekly meeting, set up the chairs and music in the space, get themselves warmed up, and begin while Warren tends to other responsibilities.
Self-motivation, though, is not the only benefit members get. There are the actual performance skills the children learn, from singing and dancing to drumming. These skills, and the time onstage, build their confidence. Warren says the group does a good deal of talking about this confidence, and the pride that comes from a successful performance.
Warren distinguishes confidence from cockiness, reminding the children that they can and should take pride in their abilities. Self-confidence and self-love are not something that youngsters are explicitly taught in other traditional places of learning.
Warren concedes she is “big on the empowerment piece.” Even the songs selected for each performance are chosen based on the message within the lyrics. The children make song suggestions prior to planning for every show.
Warren listens to each song to judge whether the lyrics are appropriate. “Even if they are appropriate, they may not be appropriate for us,” she notes. They should center around believing in oneself and being proud of who you are.
Empowerment comes from other sources within the group, too. During a meeting of the Royals, the group will do acting exercises, particularly surrounding emotions. These exercises, Warren reports, often lead to discussions about times when maybe they have felt bullied, or felt left out. The youths can discuss how they might best deal with their problems. They learn from their peers that they can overcome situations that might at first seem insurmountable.
Warren says she fantasizes about creating a summer theater program, and producing a musical that would be open to the community. “That’s my dream,” she says. She is also considering a song-writing workshop, and participation in a national program geared toward teens called Lyricism.
These plans may take some time to come to fruition. A second Royals group made up of slightly older members has been formed. Some of the original members who are now in junior high school and some whose younger siblings have joined the group, wanted to have their own space. They, too, will surely be spreading their message of empowerment and pride at future events.