Office of Engaged Learning Office of Engaged Learning - Entrepreneurship

Teaching confidence and communication through theater

by Haley Zadel ’20

You might be surprised to find out that there is more to the art of acting than just theater and film. Although you might picture Hollywood and the red carpet when you think of acting, SMU Dallas junior, Alysia Giakoumas, envisions something far different. Her company, The Playground Acting Program, reshapes the common skills and techniques taught to actors/actresses to apply to real-world situations for children ages seven to fifteen. Using various acting exercises, the program aims to teach and develop soft skills such as public speaking, communication, and confidence.

“We use viewpoints techniques to develop the child’s ability to understand their impulses and how to create shapes with their bodies; We use improvisation games to encourage the children to be creative, think quick on their feet, feel confident with their ideas, and feel confident while being silly; We use devised theatre activities to encourage the children to be creative, work effectively as an ensemble, and work using communication skills under a time constraint,”explained Giakoumas.

The Playground logoGiakoumas first dreamed of creating The Playground Acting Program when she was fourteen years old after realizing her passion for theater, education, and working with children. In high school, Giakoumas started a drama club at age fifteen and became president of the Thespian Society at age seventeen. These experiences taught her the skills needed to build out a curriculum and be an effective leader.

In the Fall of 2019, Giakoumas’ dream became a reality. With the encouragement and support from her Arts Entrepreneurship professor, James Hart, Giakoumas pitched her program at SMU’s Big iDeas contest and won.

“Creative and arts entrepreneurship is so important for creatives and artists, as the skills taught in the arts entrepreneurship courses in Meadows dramatically increase the likelihood of professional success, following graduation. Students learn to develop a strategy, to compete in the market effectively and to create their own professional opportunities, in addition to pursuing more conventional jobs. Alysia is embodying what we teach in arts entrepreneurship at SMU in that she is taking her creative career into her own hands, rather than just relying on others for her ability to work professionally,” said Hart.

Big iDeas has played a monumental role in helping Giakoumas successfully grow her program.Winning the Big iDeas contest not only has provided Giakoumas with one thousand dollars in seed money, but also given her access to the SMU Incubator and its resources. “Big iDeas has given me everything I need in order to succeed,” said Giakoumas.

Alysia Giakoumas with studentsJennifer Ebinger, Director of SMU’s Office of Engaged Learning, adds, “Alysia has taken full advantage of the Incubator@SMU space. By holding her workshops there she has been able to develop and test her vision for The Playground, as well as understand what it takes to run your own business including hiring staff, marketing, and general event logistics. It has been wonderful to see her build confidence in her approach, refine The Playground, and build a future for herself in a field that she loves.”

Giakoumas hopes that in the next couple of years, The Playground Acting Program will be accessible to all public school children and eventually grow to become “the” program in Dallas.

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