written by sarah chase
Inclusiveness, diversity, kindness and integrity are just a few values of the Fantasy Playhouse Children’s Theater and Academy. The summer and after-school program do more than just host play productions. They are focused on empowering children through education and the arts.
Founded in 1961, the program has become the leading arts education organization in North Alabama according to their website. The FPCTA has reached 31,000 residents annually and that includes 21,000 children and youth.
“Our goal is to teach students life skills through stage skills, encouraging them to become self-confident, academically successful, creative thinking citizens who are more likely to invest in their communities as adults,” executive director Karen Mockensturm said. “FPCTA’s core programs include live children’s theater productions, classes, camps, workshops, a fine arts preschool and educational outreach through after school classes and touring programs.”
Holding the belief that “all children have the right to see themselves in stories,” the program is now bringing theater accessibility to the stage through sensory friendly performances. The decision came after the program wanted to welcome the differently-abled community who may not have been able to experience live theater.
“Sensory friendly performances will have all the magic of Fantasy Playhouse production, but with sound effects lowered and house lights dimly lit,” artistic director Stephen Davis said. We will have a special host to introduce actors, characters and talk to audience members through logistics of how theater productions work. Audience members will also receive sensory kits with fidget toys, weighted blankets, headphones, and communication white boards.” The accessibility does not stop at the performances. It reaches all the way to the classroom. Each day class time is devoted to working on an abundance of things such as creative movement, music therapy, critical thinking skills and acting classes. Each month the preschool hosts lecturers to spend time with students and to focus on a multitude of concepts including art, dance, science and story time.
“The program uses dance, music, movement, mixed media processing and theater to help kids explore concepts in a safe and fun environment,” preschool education coordinator, Meagan McLaughlin said. “STEM stands for science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. All of these are highly important subjects of study in helping people change and shape the world around us. However, without art these subjects of study exist as one-dimensional concepts that can only be read about in a book. With the introduction of art comes imagination of what could be, the ability to try something new even if it isn’t perfect on the first try, learning how to cooperate with others, and the development of a love and passion for a project that will last for years to come.”
The program will be expanding soon with their “Spotlight on the Future” campaign. The new 35,700 square foot home will provide more classroom space as well as a 355-seat theater.
“The new facility is a one of a kind, regional destination for family-friendly entertainment and educational programing, including a low-cost fine arts preschool to prepare students for a successful early academic career,” Mockensturm said. “It will be a center dedicated to the development of our future workforce, regardless of career, as well as acting as a theater arts training feeder program for Alabama colleges and the growing film industry and a catalyst for revitalization of one of our state’s most diverse, yet under-resourced communities. The location in Terry Heights is key as FPCTA has been providing free services and tickets to the community for 20 years through a partnership with Second Mile Development.”
Hoping to develop better humans, Mockensturm shares that they know not every child who joins the program will want to go to Broadway, but they are focused on molding children to become successful in what they decide to do.
“I am incredibly proud of the way our organization has grown over the last decade to build on the amazing legacy of our founding and meet the needs of today’s families,” Mockensturm said. “It is an honor to witness the magic our education and production teams, staff and volunteers, make every day with our families.”
To learn more, please visit https://www.fantasyplayhouse.org/