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June 25, 2023 | Shannon Smith

Building life skills through the power of theater

More than just putting on a play, Pamela Savell’s Maryville-based theatre education program 'The Adventure Playhouse' extends well outside the black box.

You can call Pamela Savell many things, but her favorite title is Drama Mama Pam.

“The fact that I get to sit at my desk every day and play drama teacher is still really mind-blowing to me because I’m able to do that and pay my bills,” she said.

Savell has always loved theatre. She discovered in college that her true passion wasn’t on the stage, but behind it.

“Theater education is really focused on performance,” she said. “I want to teach performance, but also production. There’s so much that happens behind that red curtain, so to speak. It’s just as important as the actors on stage.”

That’s where she got the idea for her new Maryville-based theatre program The Adventure Playhouse. Savell calls it “theater education with a twist.”

“We teach performance and production elements of theater, starting with fundamental performance skills and stage presence. And then we talk about characterization and sensory movement. And we work really strong on ensemble building so that the team can learn to mold together and work as one. And then we collectively work together to devise our own play,” she said. “It’s certainly guided by me, but they create a whole brand new original play from start to finish.”

Not every school has theater education, and if they do put on productions, they’re audition-based. Savell said The Adventure Playhouse is for everyone, and anyone can be the star.

Drama Mama Pam with some of her Adventure Playhouse students. Credit: Pamela Savell.

“What’s been the most remarkable thing I think, is watching these young people find themselves in that space,” said Savell. We encourage that space to be uncomfortable, and to be weird, and to be clever and creative without judgment but with complete support.”

More than just putting on a play, Savell’s theatre education extends well outside the black box.

“I think that theater is probably the only art form that is this well-rounded,” she said. “You’re learning public speaking. You gain confidence. You learn how to work on a team and collaborate with people. There is engineering and math and science involved in set design and costuming and makeup. There are so many of these tangible skills that are applicable to so many other places in life.”

Savell first started The Adventure Playhouse in daycare classes, specifically her daughter’s daycare class. She’s now offering an after-school program at Knoxville Montessori School and hosts classes for any kids at Maryville’s The Rock and Metal Academy. Owner Robyn McCammon’s music students take theatre lessons from Savell and vice versa.

“It’s that balance of being an artist and recognizing how difficult it is to earn a living as an artist,” Savell said. “I gave myself permission to pursue something that was for me.”

To grow her business, Savell took Adventure Playhouse to Maryville’s Sky City Entrepreneur Center and went on to compete in the first-ever Launchpad Pitch Competition.

She got the flu the night before and was unable to pitch, but passed her presentation on to McCammon, who helped win Adventure Playhouse an Audience Choice Award.

Now Savell, whose currently pursuing a master’s degree to become a child therapist, has even bigger goals for her business.

“I want to have a private therapeutic practice that also uses drama therapy as an element to help the kids,” she said. “Theater can be so cathartic and so therapeutic. Being able to go to school at the same time that I’m building this program, it was just this perfect marriage of my two worlds coming together. The Launchpad event allowed me to really see this huge picture of how valuable this type of education is, but also how valuable it can be to support mental health.”

Adventure Playhouse is now enrolling students for summer programs as Savell continues to merge her theatrical and therapeutic worlds. Drama Mama Pam wants everyone to know it’s never too late to engage in what interests you.

“It could be amazing. You could fly instead of fail,” she said. “I see a lot of people sort of stepping outside of that box of fear and that’s that is exactly what I’m trying to foster.”

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