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UI Student and Alumni Bring Youth Theater to Osage

Osage Summer Theatre Program foundersKids in Mitchell County will have a chance to "tread the boards" every summer thanks to a new theater program started by a University of Iowa student and two alumni.

The Osage Summer Theatre Program is designed to help K-12 students learn about all aspects of the theater, from acting to directing to sets and costumes, in classes and workshops. The program started small last summer and still attracted 35 students to the two-week program that culminates in the production of three plays.

The program was founded by UI senior Maggie Blake, along with Theresa Augsburger and Maggie Jones, two recent UI alumni. Blake said the three of them, all theater majors, wanted to use their education and their skills to work with children and provide a kind of community service. They settled on Osage, population 3,400, as the location for their theater because it's Jones' hometown.

"Theater and kids are a great match because they get to put on hats and be silly and they love that, even the older kids," says Blake. "They can learn about teamwork and working together in a collaborative way."

The program not only introduces young children to the theater, it fills a need for high school students, too. The local school district recently cut its high school theater department, so students there who were interested in performing had nowhere to go.

The program is held in Osage's community center, the Cedar River Complex, which includes a state-of-the-art performance facility.

"It's a beautiful auditorium with all new equipment, but no one to run it or program it, so we're helping with that," Blake says.

The group is also raising money so the program is sustainable. They've worked with Mitchell County businesses to develop sponsorships and recently received a $1,000 boost in the Rose Francis Elevator Pitch competition, sponsored by the John Pappajohn Entrepreneurial Center in the UI's Tippie College of Business. The competition gives UI students, faculty, and staff the opportunity to win start-up money for their businesses.

The group also has its office in JPEC's Bedell Entrepreneurship Learning Laboratory (BELL) on campus.

Blake says the group will use the money to help market next summer's program to attract even more participants and to pay rights-fees for plays. They performed only small, inexpensive works last summer, and the play performed by the kindergarten class -- "Super Pigs" -- was actually written by the young performers themselves.

"We hope we can produce a musical next summer, but we're not doing 'The Wizard of Oz' yet," Blake says.

They also plan to use interns from both UI and Mitchell County high schools to help with production and education. She says the group eventually hopes to build a network of youth community theater organizations like it throughout Iowa.

Blake says she's already seen their theater program have a positive effect, especially on the kids who started out being shy and withdrawn and within a few weeks were open and expressive.

"The members of the community are very appreciative of what we're doing, and more than 20 percent of the town's residents came to see one of the plays," she says. "A lot of families have welcomed this as something their children can do in the community besides sports."

 


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