I first became acquainted with Lexington Children’s Theatre when I was a teenager and attended the theater’s week-long Youth Theatre Arts camp at Midway College. It was there I met people who were very different from me but who I also easily related to because of our shared interest in theater and performance. I also met people who would influence my life for years to come.
Let me be clear without being too personal: My involvement with theater as a young person probably saved my life. I really hated being a teenager — not because I was bullied or had problems at school or negative experiences with friends. I just did not enjoy adolescence one iota. But being involved with theater, through two summers of camps with LCT and then being invited to participate in a youth theater through an instructor I met at the camp, gave me an outlet into which I could generate my terribly frustrating teenage angst. I also made a ton of new friends, and many of them I am still in touch with to this day.
All of the above to say: The arts are more important to young people than we can possibly comprehend. There are a million stories like mine, and there will continue to be children whose lives are made better through the arts as long as there are organizations like Lexington Children’s Theatre. I was very excited to conduct this interview with Larry Snipes, the theater’s producing director since 1979. I also think I should point out that it was important to Larry to recognize the entire staff of the theater and the work they do for Kentucky’s children when discussing receiving the Governor’s Awards in the Arts 2013 Education Award.
Talk a little bit about the theater when you started and how things have changed over the years.
When I came, it was a transition time for the theater. It was kind of a difficult time because, the children’s theater — for all of its life up until 1979 — had been a youth theater, a theater of young people performing for young people.
The board had decided we were going to work more toward becoming a professional theater, and that was something I was very excited about when I came. One of the things about the Discovery shows we do now, they give young people the same performance opportunities, but they are supported by a professional staff.
Our goal when I came in was to try to move the theater to a more professional company so that we could actually serve more young people. When you’re doing just the youth theater performance, you’re really focused on what those young people are getting out of the experience, not necessarily what the audience is getting out of the experience.
When I came in, the idea was really to broaden that experience so the audience was getting as good of a product as we could actually provide. That was really the driving force behind what we’ve been doing the last 34 years — to do the best quality work we can possibly do, and share it with as many young people as we can. That’s kind of what pushed us into a lot of different areas. We still do the youth theater component. We do three shows a year, plus the summer family musical where we try to encourage families to do shows together — parents and young people to participate in the shows as one. We didn’t abandon that hands-on experience for a young person in performance. What we did was enhance it and try to give them the support they needed to succeed.
Tell me a little more specifically about the work you do when you go into schools and the experiences the kids have and why they’re important for children in Kentucky.
For a lot of young people we reach we’re the first experience they have in live performance theater. To see a full production within their school and within their community, that’s the most valuable thing we provide. We provide that final product a young person sees for the first time — where they see an actor, a live person performing before them, in the same room. It’s different from watching on television and different from watching a movie. That immediate connection they get with an artist, that’s what’s important for us. In addition to the performances we provide, we offer residencies and workshops with young people, and with teachers so they can get professional development workshops. Our education department has really come a long way the last several years in arts integration, using the arts to teach other subject matter and to integrate the arts across the curriculum. All of these things we do to try to provide a complete experience. It’s not just the performance; it’s not just the residency. It takes all of it to get there.
We want to give children an opportunity to explore their creative side and to be creative. And hopefully, through this exposure and through this experience in participating in theater or seeing theater, they can look at the world a different way. They can look at themselves a different way, and they can become a more complete person by doing that. And that’s what our goal is.
Why is your work important to the children and their parents, the people of Kentucky?
The thing about what we do is, we tell stories. Throughout history, for as long as man has communicated, we’ve learned and told stories, and we’ve told stories to teach and help us learn. That’s the most important aspect of what we do, the storytelling. By participating in the storytelling as a performer or as an audience member — our audience members participate — it broadens your view of the world. I think that’s what we can do. We can give a young person a chance to look at what it was like to be a holocaust victim, or a king or a fairy or a princess. It gives them a chance to identify with someone in this theater, or the character or the story, and learn as that character learns. That works on every single level, whether you’re a child or someone that’s my age, or a grandparent. It works on so many levels, that experience of watching a performance or participating in a performance, or seeing something that makes you … not necessarily question, but understand something, a concept that you didn’t fully comprehend. I think that’s what storytelling has done for mankind through our history. That’s how we learn. That’s what we offer young people in Kentucky — a different way of learning, a different way of looking at things.
Emily B. Moses, communications director