Theater program sets stage for new experience

Lawrence Youth Ensemble sessions

Children ages 6 to 18 and their parents are invited to learn about a new theater program called Lawrence Youth Ensemble at 3 p.m. Tuesday on the east side of South Park. Sign-up for the program’s two free sessions will be offered during the meeting.

The first session is for children ages 6 to 13. It will be from 3 p.m. to 5:30 p.m. weekdays Tuesday through June 10. A final performance will be at 6 p.m. June 11.

The second session is for children ages 14 to 18. It will be from 1 p.m. to 3 p.m. weekdays June 9-26. The final performance, “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” will be June 27 and 28.

For more information call (785) 221-0545.

Rachael Perry knows there are plenty of children interested in Lawrence theater. She’s worked on stage and behind the scenes with them.

But she believes some children, especially at-risk youths, are missing opportunities to get involved. She’s hoping to bridge the gap by providing a new theater program this summer.

“There are so many kids who want to be involved that it is hard to reach some kids because they don’t have the resources to get involved or may not have a way to get there,” said Perry, a 24-year-old Kansas University graduate and AmeriCorps member for Roger Hill Volunteer Center.

Perry collaborated with two friends from the Kansas University theater department – Michael Bradley, 27, and Caleb McAndrew, 26 – to form the Lawrence Youth Ensemble. They have recruited volunteers to operate two free sessions in South Park.

In addition to learning about theater, the camp will focus on encouraging children’s creativity and positive interactions with others, so no theater experience is necessary.

“There will be no lead actors or big productions,” Perry said. “We are giving kids the tools to work with each other in healthy ways and to relate to each other and express themselves in healthy ways. It’s not about a finished, polished show; it’s about giving kids self-confidence.”

Bradley, a preschool teacher who has been involved in theater since childhood, said many camp exercises and games will foster acceptance of other’s ideas. For example, the game “Yes, Lets,” requires everyone to be as enthusiastic as possible about another person’s idea before acting it out together.

Last week, the organizers had an informational meeting and gave a sampling of camp games.

Aniez Nepstad and her daughters, Dakota Nepstad, 11, and Audra Nepstad, 9, were in attendance.

Dakota liked what she saw and was ready for more. “I think it’s going to be very, very fun, and I think it’s a great opportunity for kids to just be themselves and learn how to act,” she said.

Aniez Nepstad said she was impressed with how the volunteers engaged her daughters. “I’m completely amazed they would put on such a quality class just free of charge,” she said. “I’m very thankful.”