Series Connects Schoolchildren to Performing Arts
A couple of years into her tenure as director of Reynolds Performance Hall at the University of Central Arkansas, a mission struck Amanda Horton ’95: Expose more children to live performances.
While Reynolds Performance Hall was attracting a steady crowd from the UCA community and surrounding area, Horton noted that children and their families weren’t regular patrons. So her team took to strategizing and launched the Main Stage EdUCAtion series in 2015.
The Main Stage EdUCAtion series introduces pre-K through 12th-grade students from across the state to live performing arts suited to their age range. Through being bused to campus field-trip style, Arkansas youth from as close as Conway and as far as Fox, Arkansas get access to productions based on history, math, science and books featuring characters they know and love.
“We’re really proud of the program because it was created not only for them to come and have a good time but also to be educated through the program,” Horton said.
In 2015, the series started with just three shows and has now grown to include twice as many. The 2018-19 season features “Diary of a Worm, a Spider and a Fly”; “The Science of Magic with Bill Blagg”; “Junie B. Jones in Jingle Bells, Batman Smells”; “Freedom Bound”; “Pete the Cat”; and “Erth’s Prehistoric Aquarium Adventure.”
Each show helps students build skills like critical thinking, communication and creativity, Horton said. For example, one past show challenged students to think about their lunchroom choices, while another encouraged them to yell answers to the characters onstage.
The series wouldn’t be what it is without classroom integration either. Shows are required to have an accompanying study guide and must be performed by a national touring company. That way, children have access to quality performances at a centrally located venue in the state. After all, according to arts advocacy organization Americans for the Arts, a student involved in the arts is four times more likely to be recognized for academic achievement.
“We want all children to have access to the arts,” Horton said.
In order to offer low ticket prices for attendees–$5 for students and $10 for adults–Main Stage is supported through grants, sponsors and private donors. Special public performances, such as spring 2018’s “Buddy: The Buddy Holly Story,” are also held as fundraisers for the program. This past Day of Giving, Main Stage raised more than $2,000, which will help cover students who cannot afford a Main Stage ticket.
“We don’t want there to be any limitations [because of] their socioeconomic status, their disability status [or] if they have developmental disabilities,” Horton said.
Main Stage is also an opportunity to give students a taste of UCA as a whole–some groups take campus tours and have access to the cafeteria–and for them to envision careers as actors, costume designers or writers.
“One thing it does is it gets these students on a college campus, where hopefully we might create future UCA Bears out of them, get them used to being on our campus, get them excited about being here,” Horton said. “But it also creates future arts lovers, ticket-buyers and artists. Some of these kids come here, they’re exposed to live theater, and they think, ‘I can do that.'”
Horton would like the Main Stage EdUCAtion series to one day form an artist-in-residence program where artists could interact with area classrooms for a week before the show’s open. Horton’s vision includes artists teaching students about their cultures and performers working with choir and band classes.
In the meantime, the series will continue to ensure quality arts is accessible for Arkansas youth.
“There’s just something so special and magical about live theater,” Horton said. “There’s no other experience like that.”