Drama Kids International Encourages Kids to Act Up

Storytelling and the Use of Imagination Increase Self-Confidence

Vanessa Davis’s passion for drama is no act; it’s been a lifelong ambition. By the time she turned nine, Davis was already performing at Gladstone’s Theater in the Park. One year later, she competed in a contest to become the next Martha Gooch Spaghetti kid and won.  It’s fair to say she owes much of her success in drama to spaghetti.

Part of the prize for winning the Martha Gooch contest was an opportunity to appear in a television commercial, as well as representation by a local talent agency.  Davis quickly landed two notable clients: Wal-Mart and Good Guys, a chain of consumer electronics retail stores with 71 stores in California, Nevada, Oregon, and Washington.  This was only the beginning of her dream-come-true.

“When it came time to choose where I’d go after my senior year in high school, I was fortunate enough to discover the American Academy of Dramatic Arts in Hollywood, a school built entirely around everything I loved. After graduating from the Academy, I joined the school’s professional company where I spent an entire year doing play after play. It was amazing!” Davis recalls.

It was at a showcase where agents and managers watched the scenes and monologues put together by aspiring actors and actresses that Davis’s acting life became real.  Represented by a reputable agent and one mom-like manager, she began auditioning at NBC, CBS, and Universal studio lots. She snagged a small role in “How I Met Your Mother”, received her first big check and became a member of the actors’ union. Just as Davis began her acting career, yet another change occurred. She found out she was pregnant. For the next 9 months, she ended up booking multiple pregnant lady ads and a role on Comedy Central’s “Mind of Mencia” playing opposite of Cheech Marin. Life continued to change.

“Being a new mom and a struggling actor, life was slightly difficult,” Davis admits.
“Besides my acting gigs, I almost always worked two other jobs. I worked as a bartender, waitress, maid, and seamstress. I was determined to stay in LA and continue my acting career.  I was stubborn; so I stuck it out.”

On her 10th anniversary of living in Hollywood, Davis suddenly realized that no matter where she lived, she would still be an actress. She decided to move back to Kansas City to be around her family, especially her mom, and have her daughter grow up in a more nurturing environment; it was time to go home.

“I’ve now been back for five years. My daughter goes to the same elementary school I went to. She’s happy. I am not stressed trying to come up with rent every month. And, believe it or not, I work more as an actress here. The roles are different, nothing big and fancy, but they keep me busy. Also I was able to get back into theatre. The theatre world isn’t a high paying one, so for almost 10 years I couldn’t even consider it. In the past year, I’ve done three shows:  Dirt Legs at The America Heartland, The Normal Heart at Off Center, and Love Song at The Living Room.  Most recently, I learned I was cast in The Unicorn Theater’s The Ghosts of Lote Bravo, running April 20-May 8!

“Since moving back to the Midwest, I’ve contemplated ways to share my love of acting with children. I thought about doing drama clubs or drama camps, but it wasn’t until I read an article about Drama Kids International that I was certain I’d discovered what I wanted to do. I researched the company first to make sure it wasn’t a ‘find the new kid star’gimmick. Working with kids in the professional world gave me a sour taste for kids/parents in this realm. Drama Kids was not that. Drama Kids has taken all of things I learned at the American Academy of Dramatic Arts (acting skills, tools, phonetics, exercises) and mixed in how to grow in leadership, public speaking, creative thinking, writing, emotional intelligence, and self-confidence.”

Drama Kids International is the largest after-school program in the world. Overseas, it’s called The Helen O’Grady Drama Academy. Drama Kids is huge along the east coast and down south and sprinkled around other states. Davis is the first franchise owner here in the middle of the US, and the only one in Missouri or Kansas.

“When I shared with my family and friends I was going to open a Drama Kids franchise, everyone encouraged me to go south. They were of the opinion Johnson County residents would be more accepting and participatory in the arts.  But, the Northland is where I grew up. My mother still lives in Briarcliff. I attended Briarcliff Elementary and graduated from St. Pius X.”

Their comments strengthened Davis’s resolve and better illustrated her reason to locate north of the river. Johnson County already had programs and classes and theaters and grants. She wanted this here; she wanted the Northland kids to have more choices, and be introduced to elements that aren’t being taught in school.

“Drama Kids is more than just drama; it’s a class that makes students be in the present, learn how to work with humans, not just iPads or smart phones, and understand how to participate in real life situations. I believe the more choices we have available for our children, the better; it’s that simple,” Davis explains. “I just wanted to add another option, something that has been my life passion, back in the neighborhood I call home. This summer, I will be hiring like minds, to help with our Drama Camps and start the expansion of having a solid assembly of artistic expression here in the Northland.”

“There’s an incredible amount of positive energy in our classes and camps,” says Davis. “Keeping some of the activities upbeat and silly makes the class work.  If the students see me pretending and believing in our imagination land, they will feel more comfortable and let go of their own doubts and self consciousness that some children hide behind. We start our class with a breathing exercise and with some very simple yoga. I know for me personally, my body and mind need to be warmed up before I can start creating. It also helps with getting them out of wherever they were before they walked in the class. So, before we start any of our acting exercises and lessons, we are quiet, focused, and stretching.”

Davis is hopeful her Drama Kids program will grow and cover more areas. She started with 13 kids last September; now she has 32. Her students just started rehearsals for their spring performance, which will be held at The Living Room Theatre, May 7th. They could have performed in a gymnasium or church, but Davis decided ending the year on a professional stage is about as good as it gets. After the performance, drama camps will take place.  Participation is open to students ages 5-15. Participants will be acting up all summer long.

Drama Kids International is continuously taking new enrollments. You may register online, email dramakidsmo1@gmail.com, or call 816.832.6226.