Written By: Rebecca Nimerfroh | Photography By: Kit Noble
The new Director of Education at the Dreamland, Laura Gallagher Byrne.
Growing up in a suburb just outside of New York City, Laura Gallagher Byrne made frequent trips to Broadway, attending as many plays and musicals as she could and dreaming of someday entering the world of theater. Years later, this veteran actor, director, screenwriter, and teacher is now center stage of an inspiring new program at the Dreamland Theater that’s dedicated to cultivating the same passion she felt as a girl in young people on the island.
“The earlier a child is exposed to theater, the greater their sense of empathy,” says Byrne. “As an artist, I cannot imagine a more powerful reason to include programming for our youngest audience members.” Formerly the theater arts teacher at Cyrus Peirce Middle School, Byrne is striving to make the arts more accessible to families and children on Nantucket in her new role as director of education at the Dreamland. She believes in the educational power of theater — that children in her programs are not only experiencing what it’s like to be on stage, but also developing vital life skills for when the curtain closes.
“My goal for the young people I work with has very little to do with that child’s future career in the performing arts,” she says. “Instead, rehearsals are a rigorous process that teach twenty-first century skills, such as critical thinking, creative thinking, collaborating, communicating, flexibility, and social skills. I cannot think of another setting that replicates the skills acquired through the rehearsal process.”
In an effort to cast a bigger net in the Nantucket community, Byrne has helped expand the Dreamland’s scholarship program to a year-round offering. She has also personally reached out to underrepresented segments of the community and enrolled children whose lives have since been changed from being on stage. “As the cultural center of the island, we have a responsibility to make sure our entire community has access to the arts,” Byrne explains. “Statistically, data tells us there is an inequality in education for students of color. I believe the arts are the conduit through which we can change that data.”
Byrne is also exploring new programming designed for especially young audiences. “We are now seeing more theater for babies and toddlers,” she says. “And it’s of a quality that captures the child as well as the caregiver.” Her first foray into what’s known as theater for the very young was a lyrically beautiful play called Blue by Annie Cusick Wood. “When speaking with [Annie] about theater for the very young, she shared with me that the elderly population tends to enjoy the same kinds of programming as the very young,” Byrne explains. “The idea of serving these two age ranges at the same time has an exquisite simplicity to me.”
The great success of her summer programming has only added more fuel to Byrne’s theatrical fire moving into the fall. On September 27th, the American classic To Kill a Mockingbird will open at the Dreamland, followed a month later by the tween favorite Goosebumps. All along the way, Byrne will continue to instill her childlike enthusiasm for theater arts into all aspects of the community. “As an artist and educator, I have been given the opportunity to create programming that will represent and involve the entire community,” she says. “It’s exciting to think about the partnerships that will be formed as we include all of the voices of our population. And I’m excited to hear those voices and how those voices will influence our programming.”
To purchase tickets for To Kill A Mockingbird, premiering September 27th, or Goosebumps, premiering October 27th, click here.