Toni Grates started The Travelling Stage 12 years ago. She has worked as an actor, writer, director, choreographer and producer in theatre, film and television across North America. She now combines these experiences with her passion for teaching, bringing dynamic workshops into classrooms and childcare centres across Ontario. Guest artists and professional instructors lead dance, drama and yoga workshops to students from JK – Grade 12.
Toni emphasizes that every instructor puts quality and excellence first in their instruction, but that a desire to teach is also very important. “Im always looking for people who are as passionate about teaching as they are about performing because that passion translates to the kids,” she explains.
The Travelling Stage provides teachers with a packet of rubrics and curriculum based evaluation tools to use for report cards. This allows students have a high quality arts experience while sticking with their curriculum requirements. They also supply all the props and music which means no extra work for teachers.
Toni insists that the Yoga programs have “been effective in making classrooms more relaxed and interactive.” Yoga boosts confidence through simple movements like bringing the shoulders back and lifting the head. It also focuses on being kind to each other. “We have a game called ‘Circle of Kindness’ where we sit in circle at the end of yoga, pass around a glittery heart and say kind things to each other.” During the exercise students have to make eye contact and show compassion and tolerance for each other. Toni says that “after doing these kinds of exercises for a few years, you see them continue to act like that with each other outside of the exercise.”
Dancing is a great way to express creativity while staying active. “Our most popular dance workshop is hip hop,” Toni explains. “But we also offer international styles like Bollywood and Irish, hula, latin, west african and so on, as well as dance styles from different decades and a ton of Flash Mobs.” See a full list of dance workshops here.
Drama workshops show kids and youths how to use their voice, body and emotion to bring character to life. Older students can work on basic acting skills, monologues and comedy improv while the younger ones focus on bringing fairytales to life using their imagination.
If you would like to see one of these programs at your child’s school or child care centre, contact the parent council or principal. Plan anything from a 1 time visit to a weekly program. A four week program costs only $10.00 per student (that’s only $2.50 per class), so you could plan a fundraiser if your school cannot afford it. Toni says, “it’s really important to me for these programs to be affordable. I haven’t raised the prices in 8 years now.”
The Travelling Stage also hosts community events with guest artists, as well as summer camps, lunch time and after school programs run through local schools. “As long as we have a space we can bring everything with us,” Toni explains. Check out the dance workshop with performers from Family Channel’s “The Next Step” happening in Mississauga on May 3rd.
“No matter what you do in life,” Toni concludes, “whether you’re going to be an artist, a farmer, a teacher or anything else, creativity is really important. Our programs are innovative and exciting and they encourage kids to use their imagination. I believe we need to tap into that imagination and creativity to enrich their lives.”
WRITTEN BY EMILY JOHNSON