Following successful 2020 debut, The Theater Project’s ARK Program returns

Actor and tutor Deb Maclean meets with student Victoria Tejeda over Zoom as part of Actors Reading with Kids.

UNION, NJ — After a highly successful debut in 2020, The Theater Project’s Actors Reading with Kids Program — designed to have actors interact with children virtually and instill a love for reading — is returning this year.

Operated in conjunction with Union Public Library on the premise that acting and teaching have much in common, ARK exceeded expectations in 2020.

“Last year’s pilot program was designed to show that actors, as skilled, trained readers, could coach children in developing confidence and excitement of reading aloud,” said Mark Spina, The Theater Project artistic director. “I know that actors have many of the qualities that make great teachers: creativity, improvisational skills, contagious energy and enthusiasm. What better way to demonstrate how we enliven a community than by having actors turn students on to reading? We’re excited about this partnership with Union Public Library, which allowed us to show that the arts were relevant even during a pandemic and beyond.”

Last summer, The Theater Project, a leading incubator for rising talent and a showcase for N.J. artists, had seven actors coaching eight students in the ARK program, with the number of students expected at least to double in 2021.

“Union Public Library is so excited to again partner with The Theater Project,” said Emily Macleod, UPL’s head of Youth Services. “We knew last summer was going to be very different and our main goal as a library was to continue to provide engaging, educational and, perhaps most important of all, fun programs and activities for the kids we serve as a library. The ARK program checked all those boxes. And it was great hearing how much the kids enjoyed reading with the actors. I wholeheartedly believe the skills they developed during the ARK program will stay with them for years to come!”

According to the children who participated in the first ARK program, the actors made a significant impact.

“I liked reading with Ms. Debbie,” third-grader Victoria Tejeda said. “When we read, she helps me with words I don’t know by saying and telling me what they mean. I feel great about reading ‘Harry Potter,’ because it’s a big kid’s book. I can read it because I am getting better at reading, thanks to Ms. Debbie.”

Sixth-grader Matt Gonzalez is also looking forward to reading with an actor again this year.

“The ARK program is great and very, very fun,” he said with a smile. “I think Thomas was an excellent teacher and friend. He made me have more confidence when reading. I hope it continues this summer.”

Space is limited. To sign up children in grades two through six for the 2021 ARK program, visit https://bit.ly/ARKSummer21 or contact Macleod at 908-851-5450, ext. 4.

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