Nebraska Theatre Students Learn How To Advocate to Lawmakers

March 1, 2022, 3:53 p.m. ·

Dozens of students from Nebraska high schools gather in the Nebraska Capitol building rotunda.
Dozens of Nebraska high schools students gather in the Nebraska Capitol building rotunda. (Photo by William Padmore, Nebraska Public Media News)

Omaha Senator Megan Hunt welcomed some 70 Nebraska theatre students onto the rotunda floor. They were direct and respectful when engaging with lawmakers. Their goal? Money, of course – for theatre programs at schools across the state.

Tuesday is Theatre in Our Schools Advocacy Day.

Vivica Memini is a theatre student at Burke High School in Omaha, and she’s happy to take the day to advocate for theatre.

Vivica Memini (Left) and Jamya Hogan (right) stand side by side with Memini's hand around Hogan's shoulder
Vivica Memini (Left) and Jamya Hogan (right) stand side by side in the Capitol rotunda. (Photo by William Padmore, Nebraska Public Media News)

“I have never spoken to any of our lawmakers or anything like that,” Memini said, “but I think this is a really good learning opportunity to kind of understand how it (advocacy) works. And just to see that these are people who are real people who we can interact with and talk to and make our points to.”

Memini says theatre helped her grow as a person.

“It changed me,” she said. “I became a whole different person and just more positive, more confident.”

Jamya Hogan, also a student from Burke, said she’s also came to the Capitol to advocate for theatre. For her, theatre is more important than performance. It’s a place of support.

“In December, my mom died and these were the only people who were like, really here for me.” Hogan said. “They understood, they kept my spirits up. And it was just a really good thing to be a part of.”

Hogan and Memini are members of Nebraska Thespians, which is sponsoring the day of advocacy. A chapter of the national Educational Theatre Association, the Nebraska Thespians maintain 44 high school and junior high Thespian Troupes with over 600 members.

Emily Mokrycki, Theatre Director at Burke High School, stands smiling in the Capitol rotunda wearing  a dark blue blouse with white polka dots
Theatre Director at Burke High School, Emily Mokrycki. (Photo by William Padmore, Nebraska Public Media News)

Emily Mokrycki is the theatre director at Burke -- as well as Nebraska Thespian’s co-chapter director. She says she supports the day of advocacy because it provides students with a first-hand civics lesson; how to engage your lawmakers…

“I feel like students need to see how this part happens, how you have that dialogue, and hear the other side because it gives an opportunity to see the perspective from different angles, and I think that makes us all better,” Mokrycki said.

She says after the pandemic upended many schools’ theatre programs and disrupted crucial ticket revenues, advocacy is needed to ensure there would be plenty of money available for students to pursue the arts. And there are few better advocates than the students themselves.

“You know, so many times, if I make an argument or say something, it doesn't have as much impact as it does for our students because they're the future,” Mokrycki said. “If we don't teach them how to advocate now, who's going to be the leaders in the future?”

Specifically, these young advocates, directed through Nebraska Thespian info-sheets, are asking for a portion of American Rescue Plan monies, professional development programs for instructors, and fully funded theatre programs for the 2022-2023 school year.

State Senator Tony Vargas stands smiling in a hallway of the Capitol building in a navy blue suit and light pink tie
Senator Tony Vargas. (Photo by William Padmore, Nebraska Public Media News)

Senator Tony Vargas was one of many lawmakers who spoke with the students, who mainly came from schools in Lincoln and Omaha. He says he was impressed, although being a theatre kid himself, he admitted to being a little biased.

“It's something that was really rounded out my ability to really engage and talk with people and, and be able to influence and motivate for the right reasons,” said Vargas, adding he wishes he had the opportunity to learn how to advocate when he was young.

There’s some indication the lesson about advocacy is sticking. Jayma Hogan from Burke High School says she would advocate again if she had the opportunity and the cause, “because I feel like when we talk to them, they'll actually listen. If you are given the chance, they’ll to listen to you.”

Monday the governor will sign a proclamation for Theatre in Our School Day in Nebraska for the first time.