students dressed as pirates

Students from Ida Burns Elementary School in Conway, Arkansas

Reaching New Youth Audiences

In 2017, Amanda Horton, director of University of Central Arkansas Public Appearances, set out to extend the reach of Reynolds Performance Hall’s Main Stage Education Series programming. “We wanted to bring in children that we had not been serving. For those with special needs, watching the performance unfold onstage can be the moment that makes art click.” She also wanted to include students with economic barriers to participating in live theater events.

Regional Touring Program (RTP) grants provide support for regional presenting organizations to showcase the work of artists from outside their home states. Reynolds received a grant to bring Dallas Children’s Theater to Conway, Arkansas, for a presentation of How I Became a Pirate. Horton took the opportunity to not only support new arts opportunities in her community, but to focus on bringing these opportunities to underserved children.

Social stories came about in the early 1990s, to help students and other people with autism exchange information with those around them. For UCA’s Reynolds Performance Hall, a social story became a tool to prepare young audiences for what they can expect at a live theater experience. Horton partnered with administrators at Conway’s Compass Academy to create this social story, drawing from the expertise at UCA’s Occupational Therapy department as well.

The result was a successful social story that shepherded students from schools across Conway to performances of How I Became a Pirate in October 2017. Not only was the social story useful for students from Compass with developmental disabilities, it was also brought to classrooms with very young children who had never attended a theater event before. The social story prepared them for what to expect, and how to interact with the performance by clapping, watching, and listening. Twenty-eight percent of tickets were given for free to patrons who had an economic need. Some students attended in pirate attire; others participated in an acting workshop led by a teaching artist from Dallas Children’s Theater.

“We encourage all children to be part of what we’re doing here and be part of the arts, to encourage a deeper love of the arts and potential future in the arts,” says Horton. M-AAA is proud to support this work.

All students pictured are from Ida Burns Elementary School in Conway, Arkansas. Images courtesy Reynolds Performance Hall, UCA.

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