By David Markham
The Theatre in the Park has begun hiring professional actors and stage managers for a new educational outreach program aimed at area school students. Theatre in the Park’s Blue Curtain Project will begin booking in May for school field trips to the Johnson County Arts & Heritage Center or for the program to visit schools within a 60-mile radius of Overland Park to begin in the fall.
“Theatre in the Park’s Blue Curtain Project was created to provide excellent educational theatre experiences,” said Theatre in the Park Associate Artistic Director Guy Gardner. “Through this program we are able to create stories that can travel the area, bringing new immersive learning that is rooted in state educational standards. Theatre in the Park’s Blue Curtain Project is another great step in our mission of enhancing the quality of life in our community by providing a variety of entertainment programs. We’d love to see this program brought to all schools in the Kansas City Metro area, and look forward to it blooming here in Johnson County.”
The program draws its name from a predominant aspect of TIP’s outdoor stage in Shawnee Mission Park, which is used for summer productions.
“The large blue towers out at Theatre in the Park have become an iconic look, and we wanted to bring that blue to a smaller stage,” Gardner said. “Each show will begin with a large blue curtain, flanked by artistic renderings of the blue towers that flank the Theatre in the Park amphitheater stage. We hope that this blue curtain will be memorable for kids, and something they are excited to see year after year.”
This kind of educational outreach has been envisioned since 2017 when Theatre in the Park offices moved to the Johnson County Arts & Heritage Center, and the program added The Black Box Theatre there as a way to make TIP into a year-round program.
“It has always been a goal for the TIP staff to create this opportunity for our community,” Gardner said. “Theatre in the Park is a leader in the area in entertainment. Thousands of people plan nights of their summer around the TIP season, and we look forward to teachers and administrators feeling the same way about this program. We can’t wait to be another great educational theatre opportunity in the area, and to bring the excitement you know and love with a TIP show to the classroom.”
It is anticipated the program will produce two Blue Curtain Project productions each year with each show focusing on a different age group. The first show will “Frida Libre,” book and show lyrics by Karen Zacarías, and music by Deborah Wicks La Puma. This show is geared towards third- to sixth-grade students with a story rooted in science, biology, art, and heritage.
““Frida Libre” was a commissioned piece for an educational program just as this one,” Gardner explained. “The show centers around two young people as they have big dreams, and face some of life’s challenges with a smile on their face, and in their hearts. This story is built perfectly to engage audiences through theatre, while teaching them of a whole range of subjects. This show’s educational aspects include the bones of the body, metamorphosis of a butterfly, the art and heritage of Frida Kahlo, and the struggles and triumphs of making friends.”
A preview teaser performance of “Frida Libre” for area educators interested learning more about the Blue Curtain Project is planned for April 28 at the Johnson County Arts & Heritage Center. Full performances for student audiences will be offered in September and October. It is anticipated the fall performances will run for about four weeks, with one or two shows a day taking place at either JCAHC, or at area schools.
The Blue Curtain Project was a planned 2023 addition to JCPRD’s Culture Division offerings. Additional funds for the program launch are coming from Johnson County Coronavirus State and Local Fiscal Recovery. This grant provides dollars to reengage area artists and artistic endeavors.
“Theatre in the Park’s Blue Curtain Project’s vision is to set the standard for all educational theatre across America,” Gardner said. “We will create strong bonds with other theatrical educational programs around the U.S. and curate the best mixture of education and entertainment each year. We look forward to supporting local artists, and for this program to be a reason other performers and technicians may want to relocate to the Johnson County area in the future.”
The Johnson County Arts & Heritage Center is located at 8788 Metcalf Avenue in Overland Park.