If you've ever passed by the Mount Baker Theatre at about 11 a.m. on certain days, you may wonder what's up with all the school buses and kids surrounding the theater.
Let me tell you about the lesser-known Mount Baker Theatre Season: the Wade Bennett King Education Series. Every year, we put together a season of about eight shows for children. Ranging from acrobats to book adaptations to wacky science, the education series aims to expose kids to the arts by providing an introduction to the "going to the theater" experience.
In memory of Wade King, the series gives kids an amazing field trip opportunity. Schools from all over the county buy tickets; so do a large number of private schools and home-school parents.
As the education program coordinator, my job is to find and book a series of shows that will appeal to families and classrooms and offer an educational component or life lesson. In the fall, I attend regional booking conferences, where presenters, agents and artists gather en masse to look for shows for next season, sell their artists and showcase their talents. I go to many different booths of agencies that represent family entertainment, talk to a lot of artists and start getting an idea of what shows are available for the next year. At the start of the 2012-2013 school year, I'll already be thinking ahead to the 2013-2014 season.
As the months progress, I narrow my choices of shows based on quality, educational outreach components and what will be in our area. Sometimes there are challenges: a show might not be touring in the Northwest, or the technical requirements might not be a good fit for our theater, or the tour schedule won't work within the frame of the Main Stage season. Sometimes there are triumphs: a show is willing to lower its fees, or we are able to coordinate scheduling with theaters in Edmonds and Everett; or we can add an afternoon workshop.
Once the dust settles, I have a season of shows that vary in content, target age and subject. I look for good book titles, at least one scientific show and an acrobatic or dance performance. We strive to have shows that will excite and inspire, as well as educate.
So far this season, we have taken a safari with the Kenya Safari Acrobats, been to first grade with Junie B. Jones, learned selflessness and kindness from Mufaro's Beautiful Daughters, experienced the laws of physics with Let's Go! Science Show, and travel to the Jurassic period with large-scale dinosaur puppetry.
Once a season is finalized, the marketing department and I begin work on the education season brochure. This brochure not only goes on our website, but also gets mailed out to a huge number of schools and households - it takes volunteers a whole day of stuffing envelopes and sticking address labels to get the brochures ready for mailing.
As each show approaches, I gather all the reservation information from the box office, and begin making a seating chart so that each school group can sit together in a section of the theater. This is like a giant game of Tetris, trying to fit everyone in.
One of the best parts of this job is show days. As groups of children and chaperones come in; I love hearing them say with pride that they've been here before, or that they've performed on the stage, and I love seeing the awe on the faces of kids who haven't been to the theater. One school group came all dressed up in ties and dresses for their "grown-up" trip to see a play!
I love recognizing faces of children and parents who have been to multiple shows and the palpable excitement as they wait for the show to start. I love how the kids remember what we do at each show and get excited to shout "break a leg!" to the performers. And I love at the end of the show, when I ask what part they liked best, and the answer is "all of it!"
So come down and see us for a show! I'll be the one on stage leading a discussion on good audience behavior.
ABOUT WINDOW ON MY WORLD
Window On My World is an occasional essay in Monday's Bellingham Herald that allows Whatcom County residents to share their passion for what they do, an idea or cause they support. Send your Window On My World, which must be no more than 700 words, to Julie.email@example.com.
This is the third of a yearlong series looking behind the scenes at Bellingham's Mount Baker Theatre. Maia Newell-Large is the educational program coordinator at Bellingham's Mount Baker Theatre. She was born in Berkley, Calif., and grew up in Spokane. She received her bachelor of arts degree in theatre performance and stage management from Scripps College in Claremont, Calif. For four years she also worked year-round in Yellowstone National Park. She moved to Bellingham in 2008 and has been with Mount Baker Theatre for four years. For information on the education program online, go to mountbakertheatre.com/events/education-program.