New program aims to bring the arts to Austin at-risk students


by QUITA CULPEPPER / KVUE News and Photojournalist DAVID GARDNER

Posted on January 24, 2013 at 7:28 PM

Updated Thursday, Jan 24 at 11:27 PM

AUSTIN -- With colorful sets and quirky characters, the theater can invoke your imagination, but budget cuts have forced many school districts to cut the arts.

The Pollyanna Theatre Company has been performing plays geared toward young audiences for the past 12 years. Now it’s trying to make sure at-risk kids who may never have a chance to see the inside of the Long Center or a live play finally get that opportunity.

“We want them experiencing the arts, and we want the arts to be a part of their every-day education,” said Artistic Director Judy Campbell.

Campbell is one of the forces behind a new production called “The Family of Ree.” It’s a play with education and emotional themes little ones can relate to.

“It's all about making new friends, and ultimately it's all about honesty,” said stage manager Andrew Perry. “We have an instance where a character tells a little lie, and they go through this big, huge adventure only to find out it was a lie in the beginning.”

The play marks the beginning of a new alliance between the Long Center and the Pollyanna Theatre Company as they launch a program called the Good Neighbor Arts Education Project. Its aim is to bring the arts to at-risk students in Central Austin.

There are seven elementary schools located within a three-mile radius around the Long Center. The Pollyanna Theatre Company says most of those kids don't get the exposure to the arts that they should.

“We want all children to be able to think outside the box, see people working together as a team to do something creative,” Campbell said. “We want to give them a safe environment to experience human emotion for the first time.”

“With the arts it gives the kids a moment to actually even develop skills like patience,” said actor Aaron Alexander. “They can expand their attention span so they can sit and be calm and watch a show and actually feel the things that are happening.”

First, second and third graders from Becker Elementary are the first to see the play. Students from nearby Dawson and Baty Elementaries are invited as well.

“We want to make sure that every child that's driving by, or walking by, or taking the bus by this building realizes the Long Center is open for them,” Campbell said.

The play “The Family of Ree” runs through this weekend, and the public is invited to buy a ticket and see it as well. Click here for more information.