ive minutes before the start of rehearsals, the cast and crew of Agape Performing Arts Company rushed around making last minute preparations.
Children from ages 10 to 19 silently read over their lines, mentally preparing for their roles in “Into the Woods Jr.” Crew members hung curtains and readied the 20-foot-tall tower made of wood and PVC pipe.
Alterations were made to costumes, goblets and other props were arranged on stage and musical cues were worked out.
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Like the parts both big and small that come together before opening night, the participants of the Agape Performing Arts program have been working to unveil a new theater program built from the ground up.
For young people looking for opportunities in the performing arts outside of their schools, programs are scarce on the southside. That’s why Agape founder Kathy Phipps created the new troupe, offering kids and teens a chance to act, sing, perform live music and work on the technical details of live theater.
More so, she hopes that the performances serve as a springboard to help kids of all kinds develop their talents together.
“In addition to helping them with their performing skills, what is really key is that we have a loving community where everybody feels accepted,” Phipps said. “Maybe they will feel that they can go out on a limb and do something really interesting with the role without feeling that they’ll be judged.”
Agape Performing Arts Company will stage “Into the Woods Jr.” starting tonight and running through Saturday at Our Lady of the Greenwood Church. A second run will be staged June 16 to 18 at Roncalli High School.
Phipps has directed and taught theater on the high school and university levels for more than 25 years. But recently, her interest has been in focusing on younger actors, actresses and crew members.
“There are kids who are not in athletics, or not in the marching band, who have a great deal of creativity and want to be part of a community to help bring art to life,” she said.
“Agape” is a Latin term for unconditional, sacrificial love, and that speaks to the foundation of the theater program’s mission. The goal is to create a community where all performers are valued because they are children of God, and to help performers grow in confidence and character, Phipps said.
The roots of Agape took hold at a theater program Phipps started at Center Grove Church. She directed four shows at the church, seeing interest grow with each play the kids put on.
When she put call-outs for roles in her first show, only 30 children came to audition. By the end of the program, nearly 200 were trying out for parts.
The theater ministry had grown so much that Phipps started missing the individual face-time she had with smaller casts. She wanted to branch off to do something different.
The Agape Performing Arts Company was born. The program is a ministry of Our Lady of the Greenwood Catholic Church, and rehearsals are conducted in the church’s multipurpose hall.
“I feel like I really have the extra time to talk with them on characterization, to really try some different approaches to the scenes, and it’s been wonderful to have that chance,” Phipps said.
Kyrmen Rea-Hedrick is a Center Grove area parent whose four children had worked with Phipps before on previous youth theater shows. All of her children were interested in being a part of this new program.
“Youth theater has just been exploding in the Center Grove and southside area, and there was a need for a new program,” said Rea-Hedrick, who also is assistant director of “Into the Woods Jr.” “This is the first of hopefully many shows.”
The cast and crew is made up of 48 kids of all ages and experience levels. The play is ideal because is melds storybook plots from a wealth of fairy tales, bringing together such iconic characters as Cinderella, Prince Charming, Little Red Riding Hood and Rapunzel.
Michelle Poe will play the Wicked Witch in the show. The 15-year-old Center Grove student was looking for additional theater opportunities outside of school, and felt comfortable with the organization and direction the Agape provided.
“It’s been really nice being able to improve on my own and with the rest of the group,” Poe said. “There have been a lot of opportunities one-on-one with the music director to improve my performance, but then working with everyone has helped to improve the performance as a whole.”
Besides learning the basics of live theater, Agape leaders also ensure the program helps build friendships and connect kids who otherwise wouldn’t ever meet.
Every Saturday in advance of a performance, the participants are divided into teams to spend time on trust and team-building exercises, to help them work better as a unit.
“It’s incredible to have an opportunity like this. When I got here I immediately made so many friends, and I knew no one coming in. It was nice to be accepted quickly, and that meant a lot to me,” Poe said.
“The teams are mixed age-groups, so there’s some mentoring from the older kids to the younger ones,” Rea-Hedrick said. “We’ve got some kids who are doing their first show, and other kids who have been doing this forever, so they can learn from one another.”
Besides rehearsing twice each week for the past few months, the Agape participants have been working in the community to raise awareness of the program and raise money for costumes, equipment and supplies.
They put on a fundraising character tea event at the Greenwood Barnes & Noble in May. In early June, some of the characters gathered at the Greenwood Public Library to do selections from the play and build a buzz.
“There are a lot of extra expectations for fundraising for them, and for parents. This is a very parent-driven program — they’ve been making the costumes, they create the sets, they’ll be running the lights,” Rea-Hedrick said.
After “Into the Woods Jr.” closes, organizers will look to the next performance. Plans are in place for a show in the fall, with auditions in August, though specifics are still coming into place.
Theater has the potential to build confidence in people that otherwise are still finding their talents, she said. Rea-Hedrick estimates that about half of the participants in Agape are homeschooled, so this is a chance to interact with new people.
“We’re providing an outlet for those kids who don’t have a school program to participate in,” she said. “They’re building poise, confidence and community-building.”
“Into the Woods Jr.”
Who: Put on by the Agape Performing Arts Company, a youth theater ministry of Our Lady of the Greenwood Church.
Our Lady of the Greenwood Church, 335 S. Meridian St.
- 7:30 p.m. today, Friday and Saturday; 3:30 p.m. Saturday
Roncalli High School, 3300 Prague Road, Indianapolis
- 7:30 p.m. June 16 to 18; 3:30 p.m. June 18
Tickets: $5 for adults, $3 for children
How to buy: thelittleboxoffice.com/agape
Information: Agape Performing Arts Company on Facebook