New Youth Theater Project plans free theater education, shows



— Teens will perform “Great Expectations” at 2 p.m. and 7 p.m. Sunday, Nov. 15, at Grand Junction High School. The 7 p.m. show is free. Tickets to the 2 p.m. performance are $8 for adults and $5 for students and seniors.

“Great Expectations” also will be performed at 7 p.m. Monday, Nov. 16, and 7 p.m. Tuesday, Nov. 17.

— Children in kindergarten through 12th grade will perform “Willy Wonka Jr.” at 1:30 p.m. and 6:30 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 14, at Grand Junction High School.

The show is a musical adaptation of the full-length stage show.

Joy Potter thinks the best things in life can be free.

A theater lover, Potter and her colleagues at Creative Avenues, 128 S. Fifth St., want to offer free youth theater programs beginning Jan. 5.

Bill Robinson, former head of the Mesa State College theater department, “always told his students that theater should be free and available to everybody,” said Potter, who works closely with one of Robinson’s former students, Dana Schmidt-Clingman.

Keeping Robinson’s words in mind, Creative Avenues wants to offer free theater education and performance opportunities with its new Youth Theater Project.

Potter, owner of Creative Avenues, said the number of free productions and workshops offered in 2010 depends on how much financial support she and other instructors can secure.

Musicals cost thousands to produce because of royalty fees and material rentals, Potter said.

A young actors’ workshop for eighth- through 12th-graders and productions of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” and “Romeo and Juliet” are planned for next year and likely will be free because of lower staging costs, Potter said.

Ideally, all of the five plays wanted for the Youth Theater Project for next year, including the musicals “Alice in Wonderland Jr.,” “Cinderella” and “Annie,” will be free of charge at Creative Avenues, Potter said.

With the Youth Theater Project, Potter is trying to meet a demand she sees for inexpensive arts options for youth.

This fall, Creative Avenues did a test run of the Youth Theater Project to see how it would be received. As a result, children in grades six to 12 will perform “Great Expectations,” based on the Charles Dickens novel, at 7 p.m. Sunday, Nov. 15, at Grand Junction High School.

Once Potter decided to stage “Great Expectations” for free, the casting call attracted nearly two dozen children. Only four children auditioned before Potter made it a free show. Most of the more than 20 children in the play’s cast are new to Creative Avenues’ productions.

“I think being free is an awesome idea,” said Lizzie Price, 16, who is acting in the upcoming production. “I know some people in the show with amazing talent who wouldn’t have done it otherwise.”

Potter doesn’t want young actors to be the only ones to benefit from free theater, which is why the Nov. 15 “Great Expectations” performance is free.

Watching theater is as important as acting, Potter said.

“We want people to become audience members and participate in the arts,” she said. “When you have a bigger audience, you get that energy.”

Actress Matteah Cunningham, 17, said she probably would have paid close to $100 to participate in “Great Expectations” had tuition been required. She agreed that Creative Avenues is poised to make theater accessible to hundreds or thousands more young people if the shows are free.

“I really do think it’s a great opportunity,” Cunningham said. “I’ve never heard of (a free theater project) before.”

Potter and her colleagues will spend the next two months trying to gather enough financial support to sustain the Youth Theater Project for the 2010 season and allow all theater productions to be free.

Children and families participating in the Youth Theater Project likely will be required to promote arts in the community by volunteering in a myriad of areas. Those details haven’t been finalized yet, Potter said.

Before Creative Avenues gets to its mid-December deadline for funding, Potter’s dream is for an actor or theater-lover to give the downtown arts program tens of thousands of dollars to make theater programs free.

“Our goal is to keep that quality component with no cost associated with it,” Potter said.


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