A new partnership between the University of Louisville’s theater arts department and Stage One Family Theatre will add at least one university-produced play for younger audiences to Stage One’s programming.
Stage One serves more than 100,000 children, teachers and chaperones every school year. U of L’s repertory company sends graduate students into area schools to perform plays for young audiences. They’re teaming up on “Mufaro’s Beautiful Daughters,” a musical based on a folktale from Zimbabwe, which will be the first university repertory play to receive an expanded production in the Bomhard Theatre.
The production is directed by Lundeana Thomas, who directs the university’s African American Theatre Program. A public performance is scheduled for February 17.
Theatre Arts chair Rinda Frye says the initiative will help make the university’s theater program more visible to the community at large.
“The arts are a great way of revitalizing the downtown and of making the university, I think, more user-friendly for people who aren’t used to coming to an inner-city campus,” says Frye, who says she’s been looking for opportunities to expand performances off-campus in addition to on-campus productions.
“Louisville is a wonderful theater town, but I think the arts on campus become very isolated and insular,” she says. “We don’t really exist for the larger community. It makes sense to expand into the downtown area, where we’re more visible.”
Partnering with Stage One, a professional Actors’ Equity theater in residence at the Kentucky Center, will also give university graduate students invaluable experience and networking opportunities. Many of the country’s graduate theater programs enjoy such close partnerships, like Brown University, whose MFA program is closely associated with award-winning Trinity Repertory Company.
The partnership will also bolster U of L’s academic offerings. Stage One’s Talleri McRae, the company’s associate education director, will teach an online course on the role of theater in K-12 classrooms for the department this summer. The hope is to hook into a renewed emphasis on arts experiences in schools, which some studies say increase test scores, grades and graduation rates.
“A number of schoolteachers are going to find they need more tools in order to teach their students in that area,” says Frye. “We’re hoping this first class will attract Jefferson County public school teachers and private school teachers who want to flesh out their degree programs and gain some expertise in creating theater for young people.”
If the partnership is a success, course offerings will increase in the future to possibly form a minor concentration in theater for young audiences. Frye says the courses will also better prepare U of L graduate students to enter the workforce as teaching artists.