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Sue Eldred-Kujawa (copy)

Stage III Theatre for Youth co-founder Sue Eldred-Kujawa decorates the group's rehearsal space on the third floor of the Baraboo Civic Center in January 2017.

I take a group of about 20 visitors to my stop under a large maple offering some respite from the rain. It’s a cool, damp and brisk autumn morning. The weather undoubtedly played a role in attendance, but the group is nonetheless engaged.

I’m portraying the character of a Portage-area businessman whose career spanned the late 19th and early 20th century. It’s the Portage Historic Preservation Commission’s “Saturday in the Cemetery” event Oct. 5 at Silver Lake Cemetery. Those visiting met several individuals portraying local historical figures on a walking tour. I would encourage history buffs to take such a tour.

The experience reminded me of the importance of several disciplines in which I was involved. That initial training was key in a “transformation” from dad and columnist to a turn-of-the-century business tycoon simply by the addition of a bowler-type hat to my dark business suit. Prim and proper Victorian-era language and phrasing was important. Though the event was shortened by steady rain, it was an experience most delightful.

One aspect of training drawn upon was being in front of groups of people. It started not only in skits, but also involvement in productions by local groups to college productions needing kids. That training and more is what prepared me to be able to voice my opinions in public without anxiety, as well as being able to cope when confronted on issues. It is critically important the youth of today learn how to speak in public.

A common fear shared by many is the fear of public speaking. One solution to overcoming the fear of speaking in public is simply to do it. Start in small doses. Start when you are young. It’s quite common to have anxiety about circumstances that are new to our individual experiences. A wide variety of performing arts, speaking or music involvement can assist in quelling that anxiety.

Your ability to express yourself can reap benefits. A July 22, 2011, Breaking Down Barriers story stated, “While fear of public speaking is common, it leads to lack of success when we do nothing about it. It keeps us from speaking up in meetings even when we have ideas and progress to share. It keeps us from networking and building new relationships beneficial to us and others. And it keeps us from seeing ourselves as able to teach, train, influence and motivate in our work environment, in court and within our professional network. Instead, it pigeonholes us into mediocrity.”

Opportunities for youngsters abound. On Oct. 3, the Baraboo News Republic featured new Ringling CEO Tom McEvilly stating he “plans to introduce youth theater classes including orientation and acting classes.”

Working with kids, it will be important for McEvilly to forge a strong relationship with Baraboo’s Stage 3 Theatre for Youth. Stage 3, which focuses on bringing literary works to the stage, has been a Baraboo staple for more than a decade. Hundreds of local kids have experienced their first real stage exposure through their productions. Kids and parents alike are encouraged to be engaged. A green “Oz” head oversees any work in my garage.

The sport of debate is an awesome activity for students, often the victim of budget cuts by those who can’t comprehend its benefits.

Some debate forums require competitors “switch sides,” meaning you present a case in favor of a resolution one round, then present the case against that same resolution the following round. Key to this process is complete reliance upon data you can present and reasoning you can form. You must be prepared for cross-examination. It removes any personal bias you may have. You are forced to make an argument on facts alone. This reliance on actual evidence flies in the face of most of the emotional drama played out on the political left.

Forensics is an activity offering a wide range of speaking opportunities that can allow a student to choose a format and content with which they may have a great deal of comfort. Whether alone, or in a group, it gives a taste of presentation in a small setting, which also can be a superb outlet for kids. You may be confronted with the lost art of having to think on your feet. Band, choir and theater productions all give students the opportunities for both expression and maturation.

Today’s kids are glued to Snapchat, Instagram or whatever. Lost in that morass is the necessity to learn to speak in front of a group of potential strangers. Get kids involved in public speaking today, so they may be engaged to be the leaders of tomorrow.

Scott Frostman lives in Baraboo and has roots throughout Wisconsin. He believes anyone can make a difference and can be reached at scfrostman@gmail.com.

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