(December 2019) – Accept the circumstances and control how you react. Marsha Robbins, the owner and executive director at Dramatic Education Inc., has turned this rule of theater into one of the most inspiring stories of arts advocation in Central Florida.
By the time Robbins graduated from the University of Central Florida (UCF) with her master’s degree in education, she found that opportunities for drama educators were virtually nonexistent, especially in elementary education. Having previously earned her bachelor’s in fine arts in stage management and with a lifetime of experience in theater, including her own time as a student, this was a discouraging landscape for a teacher who knew how transformative the arts could be for students.
“Children at the elementary level are very creative and they’re hungry to learn,” said Robbins, who got involved in theater in third grade. “These programs encourage empathy, connection, forward thinking and appreciation of the art form. I believe those involved in the arts are able to be creative in the workforce no matter the industry.”
When Robbins found an opening as a third-grade teacher, she ran a different kind of class. “I put the arts in my classroom,” she said. “I taught the curriculum, but everything I did had an acting component, a creating component, a visual arts component — and my kids thrived.”
That first year, every one of her students passed the required state tests. “I knew I had something,” she said. “I didn’t know quite what it was, but I knew arts education was the key. It is still the key today for innovation in the 21st century workforce.”
It was clear her methods were effective — but formal performing arts programs weren’t available for elementary-age students. For the many students Robbins knew could benefit, those kinds of programs would have the potential to alter not only the students’ success, but the future of the arts in their community.
With her research from years spent earning degrees, as well as practical education in the classroom and in previous roles with the Walt Disney Company and at local professional theaters, she began designing her own programs. She eventually established Dramatic Education Inc.
“From the start, I saw this not as a one-person company but as a large business, where we had to create procedures from the very first program so that everybody could do this,” she said. “I wanted to design something where we were focused on giving the same quality of service and curriculum to 40 schools at the same time.” Robbins was able to build programs that could be reproduced effectively and efficiently, implementing them with a staff made up of local performers and artists.
The community has echoed her enthusiasm as well, with partners that include ATHENAPowerLink, a program offered through the Center for Advanced Entrepreneurship at Rollins College that provided her with access to a panel of advisors for a year to assist her business in achieving tangible goals and profitability.
“To me, it’s the circle of life,” Robbins said. “My job now is to build the next generation of theatergoers for arts education. The same elementary students we are training may study it in college, use theater applications in their career or become theatergoers. We all work together to continue keeping the arts alive.”
Now in its 15th year, Dramatic Education offers more than 40 programs for private, public and charter schools. The company even recently expanded to provide before- and after-school care through a partnership with Orange County Public Schools, growing from a 15-person staff to a team of 150.
While it hasn’t been easy, Robbins has not lost sight of what she learned so early on the stage. “Start and fail. Fail fast but keep going. You’re going to have loss, that is a given. You accept what you’re given. The key to it is your reaction.”