Lexington Children’s Theatre: LCT Takes Show on the Road: Theatre Explorers Program Brings Drama to After-School Activities at Local Schools
When her 7-year-old daughter Kelly fell in love with acting through attending Lexington Children’s Theatre’s summer camp, she begged to attend LCT’s after-school classes.
Clore knew the value of the program and didn’t want to disappoint her daughter, but there wasn’t enough time in the day to make it work.
The family lives in the south end of town and LCT sits on Short Street downtown.
“It would be impossible to leave work to get my daughter from Veterans Park (Elementary) after school and get back downtown,” said Clore, the founder and executive director of the Kentucky Nonprofit Network.
So she called LCT with a suggestion – Bring LCT’s after-school programs to school. To her delight, LCT had the same idea. Said Jeremy Kisling, LCT’s Associate Artistic Director in charge of Education: “We have to respond to the community and families and get to schools because that’s where the kids are.”
And so is the Children’s Theatre. With Clore serving as an advocate at her child’s school, LCT launched pilot programs last spring at Veterans Park and Meadowthorpe elementaries. This school year, LCT is at Veterans Park, Rosa Parks, Liberty, Wellington and Picadome.
The Theatre Explorers program runs 90 minutes once a week for six weeks and is geared for both first and second graders (Create a Play), and third through fifth graders (Actor’s Toolbox).
The goal is to engage and develop the imagination of a child – a Children’s Theatre specialty.
“Our classes are experience-centered and engage every learning type,” Kisling said. “We create a safe place for children to explore and take risks. And our teachers undertstand that if a class is not fun to teach, it’s not fun for kids.”
Clore can vouch for that. “I really loved the program for my daughter. The class is not about learning lines. Six-year-olds can’t do that. I loved that the classes taught creative movement, song, art and taught the kids to love the stage.”
Parents interested in similar experiences for their children can follow Clore’s lead and advocate at their schools, which need only supply room for the program. LCT brings its highly trained staff to school, and families pay for the class, like any other after-school activity.
“The beauty of the program is that it’s bringing theatre to where we are,” Clore said.
ONE OF BEST IN USA
Theatre Explorers is only the latest example of why LCT is one of the best – and oldest – children’s theatres in the country. Founded in 1938, LCT has built a national reputation through its performance productions and its education programs.
Through its in-house productions at its Main Stage and the Opera House, its school productions, its touring productions that traverse the state, and its educational and outreach classes and programs, LCT reaches 120,000 kids every year.
Participation in the education program has more than doubled in the past 12 years under the Kisling’s direction.
“The program has really blossomed under Jeremy,” said Larry Snipes, LCT’s Producing Director since he and his wife Vivian, the Artistic Director, arrived in 1979. “He has added stability and consistency to our program and is committed to young people and making them the center of the experience.”
Children flock to LCT’s summer camp programs that involve one-week sessions that are capped by performances for parents and friends. And the in-house, after-school classes for children 4-18 offered in the fall, winter and spring continue to flourish.
In addition, LCT has launched a Parent and Me class for children 3-4 years old.
When it comes to theatre for the whole family, LCT has it all covered.
For the past decade, LCT has conducted after-school Performance Workshops at Picadome Elementary in connection with the school’s Family Resource Center.
LCT staff brings two teaching artists, props, sets and costumes to Picadome five days a week, two hours a day for two weeks.
The workshop serves up to 25 students and concludes with a 30-minute performance for the whole school.
“The kids really enjoy the program,” said Ebonee Brown, the Family Resource Director for 12 years. “The kids get to express their individual creativity and talent, and they think it’s amazing to put on a play.”
The transformation the kids undergo during the two-week workshop thrills Brown.
“They are hesitant kids when they first try out and by the time they’re on stage they’re like another person. They are so confident and proud of what they have done. It’s really neat to see that happen.”
Other schools have written grants and tapped PTA funds to bring LCT to class during the school day. Recently, those schools have included Yates, Russell Cave and Sandersville elementaries and the private school, KORE Academy.
Lansdowne Elementary has been especially creative with grants allowing classroom teachers to bring in LCT to help enrich lessons. One class, studying the Western movement in the U.S., brought in LCT for a week to weave drama into the lesson.
LCT also has augmented Lansdowne science classes through drama, including an ecology class studying found objects. LCT brought in puppets made from found objects to illustrate thelesson, much to the delight of the students.
Said Amie Kisling, Jeremy’s wife and the theatre’s Associate Education Director. “Once we get into a school, they see the value of our program and we always get invited back.”
HOME AWAY FROM HOME
Take the case of Zachary Kelly, the 13-year-old son of Andrea Adams of Georgetown.
As a preschooler, he saw a performance of “Jack and the Wonder Beans” and he was mesmerized.
“He was a very active little boy and I didn’t think he could sit through a whole performance, but he was spellbound,” Andrea said. “We got season tickets right away.”
Zachary also started taking classes and LCT became a second home for him. “The Children’s Theatre is like his other parent,” said Andrea, a single mom.
She has seen Zachary transform from a shy child into a self-confident performer who is now a member of the Theatre’s Junior Company, which meets once a week focusing on acting skills.
In February, he appeared in his first Main Stage production, “There’s a Girl in the Boys Bathroom.”
“I really love acting and it’s such a positive environment,” Zachary said. “The rehearsals are fun, not work, work, work. It’s easy to make friends, and the teachers are nice and treat everybody equal. There are no favorites.”
Just the Children’s Theatre itself.
“The theatre has had such a big impact on his personality and outlook on life,” Andrea said of Zachary. “It’s been tremendous with his self-confidence. It’s just such a positive environment. He always leaves in a good mood.”
Snipes, the longtime Producing Director, trumpets the fact that theatre teaches the same life lessons as sports with a notable difference – there are no losers in theatre.
“In theatre, everybody can work together to the benefit of each other without anyone feeling vanquished,” he said. “In theatre, everyone succeeds.”
Andrea Adams echoes that sentiment,
“Zachary has learned important life lessons like hard work, working together and seeing something through,” she said. “For us the Children’s Theatre is the antidote to everything else in life. It’s a special place.”