Bonnie Davidoff was a weird kid, by her own admission.
She didn’t really enjoy the ocean – every one else in Ocean City, Md., did, though. She had an accent, after spending the first few years of her education in Long Island, N.Y., that the local kids just weren’t familiar with. Nor were they familiar with Davidoff’s Jewish father.
She was shy and bullied and needed a place to fit in, so her parents enrolled her in the local community theater program. It was a life-changing move, and one Davidoff hopes she can replicate with kids looking for an outlet in south Charlotte.
“Everything that was different for me, kids didn’t know how to deal with it,” Davidoff, the local franchise owner of Drama Kids, said. “Theater became the place where I felt comfortable and where I could be myself.”
Davidoff threw herself full force into theater, starting with her first performance in “The Pied Piper.” Family members still quote lines of her dialogue from the performance. She moved on from there to roles like Pinocchio in eighth grade and then “The Who’s Tommy” in college at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro.
Her family moved to the Charlotte area after seeing Oprah Winfrey say North Carolina had close to zero unemployment. Davidoff was teaching at West Charlotte High School when the school’s arts program was cut.
Davidoff ended up in south Charlotte, where she got involved in Drama Kids and is now trying to spread it into Union County and across the South Carolina border.
Drama Kids is a program local schools, churches and civic groups can partner with to teach kids, ages 4 to 17, the basics of theater. The program, taught in semesters, leads up to a final performance at the end, though Davidoff said it’s important to note the program isn’t just about one grand finale.
“I always say there are three important focuses” in what Drama Kids teaches, Davidoff said. “Bravery, chivalry and safety. They know they are going to feel safe, they have to be brave to try new things and chivalry because you have to help each other in class.”
And it keeps coming back to the same lessons she learned as a child.
“I’ve had parents say to me, ‘My daughter wasn’t doing good in school and she was able to be a leader in your class and gain confidence. She’s never felt important or been a leader before, but now she has.’”
The program runs once a week for an hour, spanning a full year of work. September through December is focused on acting skills, speech, improvisation and small plays to learn the basic skills. January to May is focused on play rehearsal leading up to the show for parents.
“Every kid gets a part in the play,” Davidoff said. “Every child will have a line. Kids do not have to audition.”
Experience doesn’t matter at Drama Kids, since they have students ranging from those seeing a stage for the first time to those who look at ease in front of the crowd. Davidoff said there’s always more to learn, and having students of different levels of experience allows the kids to learn from each other as much as from the program.
“We cater to every child,” she said. “We’re not just for the shy kid or the professional theater kid. We’re here for everybody. And I think that’s the difference. We want every kid to have an opportunity to learn about the arts.”
Davidoff knows the impact the arts had on her West Charlotte students, and wants to see more kids have the opportunity to take the stage. That’s why she’s now taking the steps to get more people on board with her efforts and expand.
“I’m trying to network with as many people as I can to make sure more students, more people, more parents, more schools know about us. My goal is to get Drama Kids into more schools so that every south Charlotte, Union, York, YMCA student can be involved. I believe it’s very important for kids to have that kind of arts program available.”
The key for Davidoff will remain, as it has ever since “The Pied Piper,” to help kids who need that option in their lives.
“I always wanted to help kids. I had great teachers who always supported me,” she said. “Even for that one hour they were in my class, they can be who they are and they can have that self confidence and know it’s OK to be difference because different is good.”
Find more information about Davidoff’s Drama Kids program at the group’s website, www.dramakidsinc.com/nc2.
This story is part of South Charlotte Weekly’s continuing series on women-owned small businesses in the area. To nominate a business leader for a story, send an email about her to firstname.lastname@example.org with the subject line “women-owned small businesses.”