One ultramodern technology, streaming media, is helping to save the oldest professional children’s theatre in the United States -- which happens to be a local Nashville gem. Founded in 1931 by the Junior League, Nashville Children’s Theatre currently offers online classes, camps and streaming productions.
In a typical season, more than 80,000 people attend a performance, camp, or educator workshop at the Martin Center, NCT’s downtown facility. Additionally, 23,000-plus students with an economic need normally participate free of charge through NCT’s scholarship programs. Anchored by 'the show must go on mentality,' NCT's staff last year forged creative ways to keep their outreach available.
"After a tornado and then COVID shutdowns, we pivoted quickly to produce a whole line of classes with customized curriculum to suit Zoom access," says Reed Hummell, NCT director of marketing and development.
For example, he says their online classes and camps are intentionally more interactive, and they support themes that focus on social and emotional learning while finding one's voice.
One NCT currently streaming show, Pete The Cat, will be available through June via a special arrangement with TheatreWorks USA. The show was filmed on location at NCT. The streaming fee is $19.99.
Here's the show's plot: When Pete the Cat gets caught rocking out after bedtime, the cat-catcher sends him to live with the Biddle family to learn his manners, and boy, does he get the whole family rocking, except for young Jimmy Biddle, the most organized second grader on planet Earth. The last thing Jimmy needs is some groovy cat in his life, changing his family and turning everything upside down. But when Jimmy draws a blank in art class, it turns out Pete is the perfect friend to help him out. Together, they set out on a mission to help Jimmy conquer second grade art all the way to Paris and back in a Volkswagen Bus.
The show's cast is:
- Dad and Others...James Rudolph
- Jimmy Biddle...Gerold Oliver
- Mom and Others...Meggan Utech
- Pete The Cat...Brian Charles Rooney
- Olive Biddle and Others...Melissa Tormene
Alternatively, the NCT video on demand show that's being tapped primarily by teachers is Around The World In 80 Stories. Created for students in kindergarten through fourth grade, with corresponding classroom curriculum, this production features multicultural folklore from Africa, South America, Asia, Europe and the indigenous tribes of North America. Teachers can book this show by emailing email@example.com. At press time, NCT staffers were working on possibly making this show available through streaming, as well.
Reed says they hope to return to offering in-person classes in June. "And we'll still have virtual camp for those who prefer online options," he adds.
As a recent NCT intern, Denee Stewart Freeman, put it: "NCT is a stronghold for the arts and education, intertwined with both Nashville as a city and the larger Theatre for Young Audience Community. Growing up as a theatre kid in town, Nashville Children’s Theatre was an integral part of my childhood."
Lead funding for NCT’s programs is provided by Metro Arts, Tennessee Arts Commission, The Shubert Foundation, The Memorial Foundation, The National Endowment for the Arts, and The Community Foundation of Middle Tennessee.
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