GREENSBORO—The Boone-based Appalachian Young People’s Theatre (AYPT) received the 2016 Sara Spencer Child Drama Award at the 67th annual Southeastern Theatre Conference (SETC) Convention held in Greensboro, North Carolina March 2–6. This prestigious honor recognizes the work of an individual or organization for dynamic and engaging work for young people, and is named after children’s theatre pioneer and founder of the Children’s Theatre Press (now the Anchorage Press) Sara Spencer.
AYPT works in partnership with communities and public schools of western North Carolina to bring high-quality, affordable live theatre experiences to young audiences who would get little or no theatre in any other context. AYPT has a two-pronged mission: to produce a variety of quality plays with educational value, including fairy tales, folk tales, musicals and plays with contemporary themes for K–8 audiences; and to provide students seeking degrees in theatre and/or education practical experience producing and performing for young audiences.
Jeremy Kisling, associate artistic director of Lexington Children’s Theatre in Kentucky, presented the award. “This year marks the 44th year of AYPT, one of most well-established outreach programs at Appalachian State University,” he remarked. “The Department of Theatre and Dance has sustained AYPT’s touring children’s theatre program since its beginning in 1972, and during that time, AYPT has reached an estimated 150,000 children across western North Carolina and beyond.”
Appalachian State Theatre Professor Teresa Lee, longtime AYPT artistic director, accepted the award. “Thank you to SETC for recognizing the importance of the work of theatre for young audiences,” she said. “I’m deeply honored to be in the in the company of past recipients of the Sara Spencer Award. I share this honor with colleagues past and present at the university but, mostly, with the many university students over the years who trouped through 6 a.m. calls, sometimes in the snow, to get to places like Healing Springs Elementary, where we worked with 125 children in grades K–8.”
Noting that there were hundreds of high school students at the awards banquet, Lee remarked, “To all you young people here tonight: there is no corner too far, no place too small to go and tell your stories. Keep telling the stories, because you never know; there just might be a little boy or girl in the audience who feels invisible, who sees a character in a play who feels invisible, until he conquers the dragon or she saves the day, inspiring that little boy or girl to dream big and bring their aspirations to life. Theatre can change the world.”
SETC Executive Director Betsey Horth congratulated Lee as well. “I personally couldn’t be more pleased and delighted that you are the director as they continue their legacy beyond the 44th anniversary,” she said. “It is fitting that you will receive the award on behalf of the theatre company. You have done so much in this field; you have taught and trained new talent and have given generously of yourself to the Theatre for Youth community professionally, in your community and at SETC.”
SETC is the strongest and broadest network of theatre practitioners in the United States. More than 4,000 theatre enthusiasts from all over the country attended the 2016 Convention, which was held in North Carolina for the first time in 11 years. The convention included actors, singers, dancers, designers, technicians, stage managers, directors, playwrights, teachers, students, professionals, academicians and others gathering to celebrate the art of theatre. SETC offers hundreds of workshops, keynotes, performance festivals, auditions, college recruiting, job interviews and more.
According to Lee, Professor Emeritus Ed Pilkington began the AYPT tradition in 1972, “when a small band of university students loaded into a 1941 Ford pickup truck and ventured into remote mountain communities with shows that were designed to teach components of the curriculum such as math, language arts, social studies and history.” Lee is particularly proud of the fact that the shows encourage self-expression and self-confidence by allowing the children to become part of the performance through audience participation. “The experience was and continues to be invaluable training for young theatre students at Appalachian,” said Lee. “The class was designed for students to earn three-credit hours for their work, including building sets, props and costumes and touring the production for several weeks in the semester.”
Leadership of AYPT was passed along from Pilkington to faculty members Vernon Carroll and Jonathan Ray before Lee took the directorship in the fall of 1988. Lee is currently in her 28th year as director of AYPT. “The program has seen changes over the years, but remains true to the roots of its beginnings,” said Lee. Under her leadership, the group typically performs published plays for young audiences. Very often the plays still include audience participation, which was one of the founding elements of AYPT.
The Department of Theatre and Dance is committed to providing hands-on practical learning experiences for its students, and this experiential learning fosters a commitment that is still alive and well today. “Students devote far more time and energy to AYPT than to the average three-credit hour class,” Lee explained. “The program simply would not exist nor would it be as successful as it has been for all these years without the superior dedication of these talented young artists.”
“AYPT is a wonderful example of the kind of program that benefits the cultural life of the region generation to generation,” Lee concluded. “Through their participation in AYPT, our students are educating and encouraging the next generation of theatre audiences. They are also showing children that theatre is an essential art form and hopefully inspiring them to one day become young theatre artists themselves.”
About Appalachian State University
As the premier public undergraduate institution in the state of North Carolina, Appalachian State University prepares students to lead purposeful lives as global citizens who understand and engage their responsibilities in creating a sustainable future for all. The Appalachian Experience promotes a spirit of inclusion that brings people together in inspiring ways to acquire and create knowledge, to grow holistically, to act with passion and determination, and to embrace diversity and difference. Located in the Blue Ridge Mountains, Appalachian is one of 17 campuses in the University of North Carolina System. Appalachian enrolls more than 19,000 students, has a low student-to-faculty ratio and offers more than 150 undergraduate and graduate majors.
The Department of Theatre and Dance is housed in the College of Fine and Applied Arts. Its mission is to provide liberal arts educational opportunities along with B.A. degrees in dance studies and theatre arts. The department also values the opportunity to offer coursework for integrated learning through the arts to the general university student population. Vital to the support of this mission is a dynamic co-curricular production program that provides exemplary theatre and dance experiences to departmental students, the university community and the region. The departmental philosophy is to support the university’s liberal arts environment through a balanced and integrated emphasis on teaching, creative activity, scholarship and service. For more information, visit http://theatreanddance.appstate.edu.
What do you think?
Share your feedback on this story.