and Clark-Hansen met only a few months ago at the Illinois Social
Workers Conference. With the support of Levek, Clark-Hansen, who has
been a motivational speaker for 15 years, was able to bring her
workshop to this small school in the Midwest. In part
one of this series, Lincoln Daily News examined Cornerstone
Production’s two-day workshop which prepared Illini Central sixth
through eighth graders with the skills they needed to become a
traveling performing troupe.
along with her husband Paul, is the founder of Cornerstone
Productions, a traveling theatrical company, which conducts workshops
and training sessions year ’round. Preparing students for
improvisational roles is just one part of their job. In addition, the
Hansens present plays and skits to schools and organizations
throughout the United States. In these assemblies Clark-Hansen acts
out the parts of many different characters that face difficult issues
such as drugs, smoking, alcohol, eating disorders and school cliques.
[Paul Hansen, Laura
Clark-Hansen, and Rita Seggelke]
who is working on a master's in human development from St. Mary’s
University in Minneapolis, Minn., has a simple philosophy when she
attends conventions like the one where she met Seggelke. "If you’re
hungry we have this available," she says plainly. "The
lessons are so obvious." The program literally sells itself.
Schools must, however, raise funds or write grants for the Hansens to
perform. Clark-Hansen was amazed at how quickly Illini Central
[Laura Clark-Hansen explores
the myths established by alcohol
advertisers. Her "drug" of choice: sauerkraut]
week after the training, the Hansens performed for all Illini
Central Middle School students. For grades six through eight,
Clark-Hansen acted a play her husband wrote entitled, "The Next
Level." In this play she focuses on women athletes and sports.
The topic of exploration for kindergarteners through third graders
included concepts about how your thoughts and feelings impact what
you do. For fourth and fifth graders, Clark-Hansen transformed
herself into a Barbie doll and focused on the pitfalls of
perfection. The message here is to encourage kids to be themselves.
Hansens' dramatic and comedic scenes had an impact on teachers and
students alike. Steffanie Sheldon, an eighth grader who attended the
assembly, said, "The performance she [Clark-Hansen] did was
wonderful. She never came out of her character once. She taught me
more about drugs and alcohol and other stuff."
is with this type of reaction that Clark-Hansen feels the most
rewarded. "I love it when the kids have an ‘ah-ha’ moment
and when they take what they have learned in their head to their
heart." The students must think so too. Adam Tucker added,
"I can't wait to do it next year."
[At the Illini Central Middle School's assembly]
But this wasn’t an ordinary class in the fundamentals
of theater. The students were proactive as they explored
difficult topics that they face every day.
Smoking, drugs, alcohol, violence, divorce,
depression, peer cruelty and stereotypes, eating disorder
and body image, and anger management were at the top of the
mission of Cornerstone Productions is to empower students
of all ages “by putting into their hands a powerful tool
to use for social change.”
[Members of the Illini Central acting troupe]
Under the Hansens' direction these students learned how
to become an influence.
On the first day, Mrs. Hansen explains, “they (the
students) teach from their hearts”—learning how to
explore a subject through feelings.
“On day two,” she continued, “they teach from
their head to their hearts”—learning all of the
For example, Mrs. Hansen explained, “For the
students to know how to express what effects alcohol has
on the people around them, they have to understand their
they can learn the facts and statistics about alcohol.
“Prevention education works when kids learn new
And these students are learning volumes. Eighth
grader Megan Hudgins exclaims, "I thought that the
training was a great experience. It really helped us look
at what was going on around us, and it taught us how to
help other kids deal with problems like drugs, alcohol and
Over the two event-filled days, the Hansens equipped the
students with the skills they need to become an
independent theatrical troupe.
These kids don’t have to worry about the stresses
of acting because improvisational acting does not require
complicated scripts or fancy costumes.
Andrew Coulter, who is a member of the Illini
Central troupe, said,
"I thought it (acting) would be kind of
embarrassing at first, but I also thought it might be fun,
so I joined, and in the end I had a great time."
The topics the Illini Central Middle School students will
eventually present to groups around the county include
eating disorder, popularity, divorce, cliques and teasing,
and drinking and its consequences.
To get their acting skills polished, the students
participated in theatrical exercises, which included mime
and short skits where they literally became their parts. The
students took an in-depth look at bullying, smoking,
alcohol and its effect on the organs, and head lice.
Throughout the “improv,” students comically
“became” head lice attaching themselves with curled
fingers to the head of the child with the lice.
Or they “became” a withered organ of an
alcoholic, showing the impact alcohol has on the body.
“This experience brought students from different
cross section of kids, high risk, high potential,
not just the trophy kids,” Mrs. Hansen said
When asked why she likes her job, Mrs. Hansen said
emphatically, “because it’s the right thing to do. It
changes kids’ lives.”
learn more about Cornerstone Productions log on to their Web
Editor’s Note: You
can read part two of this feature
Productions in the March 14 article above.