Actor Tyson Baker's takeaway from Plan-B's Free Elementary School Tour

Tyson Baker spent most of 2014 performing in Matthew Ivan Bennett’s anti-bullying play DIFFERENT=AMAZING, which was seen by more than 12,000 students, grades 4-6, between February and October 2014 as part of Plan-B’s Free Elementary School Tour. Davis Arts Council, Good Company Theatre and Art Access partnered on various stages of the tour. DIFFERENT=AMAZING was beautiful in its honesty and simplicity. The idea: Advocating anti-bullying in elementary schools. The ingredients: A short, honest, fun kids touring show based on real-life accounts of bullying. A time frame of 40 minutes. Two actors. Two pairs of black All-Star Converse. A black bench. Two long-sleeve t-shirts. And willing ears. So how did it go? It was an amazing success! My beautiful and talented co-conspirator Latoya Rhodes and I toured to close to 50 schools along the Wasatch Front. We went to elementary schools, libraries, private academies, art galleries, boys & girls clubs and theaters. We even got to go to my old Junior High, Snowcrest Jr. High in Eden where my Mom still teaches P.E., Health and Spanish. We performed for my Mom’s 8th grade Health class and Mrs. Bulloch’s (my old Drama teacher!) 7th grade class. After our last performance, Mrs. Bulloch asked if we could play some acting games with the kids. Latoya and I goofed off with them for ten or fifteen minutes, the bell rang and the kids started to file out to the busses to take them home. Lingering behind was this young African-American girl, buried beneath these large, black-rimmed vintage glasses. She approached us timidly and struck up a conversation. She asked us about the stories, if they...

Actor Latoya Rhodes' takeaway from the Free Elementary School Tour

Latoya Rhodes spent most of 2014 performing in Matthew Ivan Bennett’s anti-bullying play DIFFERENT=AMAZING, which was seen by more than 12,000 students, grades 4-6, between February and October 2014 as part of Plan-B’s Free Elementary School Tour. Davis Arts Council, Good Company Theatre and Art Access partnered on various stages of the tour. How can I quantify an experience like DIFFERENT=AMAZING? I sit here at my computer pondering all the amazing things that happened on the tour. Reflecting back on my own childhood, on how DIFFERENT=AMAZING came to exist, to rehearsals with Jerry, Tyson and Matt, to where I am now: drinking a hot tea, smiling, and hoping I can at least share parts of a life changing show. I suppose I will just start . . . When I was younger I was bullied relentlessly because I looked different from all the other kids, had different hair, wore very thick glasses, was painfully shy and was a complete geek to the core. I was a prime target. The bullying even got so bad that it grew to be physical. I got into a physical fight in the hallways with one of my bullies, which I lost, and another bully punched me in the stomach at recess. Unfortunately, nobody at school did anything about it. Now being older, I have been asked frequently if I thought that bullying has gotten worse since I was a kid, and before the question is complete I answer yes. I mean, getting into fights to defend myself from those bullies was not ideal; however, the bullying nowadays is so severe that these children are...

Director Christy Summerhays' takeaway from Plan-B's Free Elementary School Tour

Christy Summerhays directed Plan-B’s first Free Elementary School Tour, Sergei Prokofiev’s PETER AND THE WOLF in partnership with Gina Bachauer International Piano Foundation, which was seen by more than 10,000 elementary students. Davis Arts Council and Salt Lake Symphony partnered on various legs of the tour. When I’m asked what super power I would choose (a question that comes up surprisingly often) I always say, The Ability to Become Invisible. I would LOVE to stand in front of a movie theatre, for instance, and watch people watching a movie.  I like the idea of being able to see people as they truly are. The closest I have come to fulfilling this fantasy is when I got to take Plan-B’s production of Prokofiev’s PETER AND THE WOLF to elementary schools. Usually when a production is up and running the director’s job is finished and she moves on to other things. Luckily for me we needed someone to run the projections for these school shows and I took over. I would set up the projector behind a large screen that we ritualistically assembled at each new school and find a place I could sit to push my buttons.  Inevitably I would have a perfect view of the children sitting on the edges of the auditorium and my wish to be invisible would come true…for about 45 minutes.  It was heavenly.  When Kary Billings played Aaron Copland’s “Ho Down” the little kindergarteners couldn’t help but move their fingers wildly, immediately imagining they could keep up with Kary’s keyboard acrobatics. And then, as Jay Perry told the story of PETER AND THE WOLF and...

Pianist Kary Billings' takeaway from Plan-B's Free Elementary School Tour

Kary Billings (Board Chair, Gina Bachauer International Piano Foundation) was the pianist on Plan-B’s first Free Elementary School Tour, Sergei Prokofiev’s PETER AND THE WOLF in partnership with Gina Bachauer, which was seen by more than 10,000 elementary students. Davis Arts Council and Salt Lake Symphony partnered on various legs of the tour. The Gina Bachauer International Piano Foundation was fortunate to partner with Plan-B Theatre Company on the launch of their Free Elementary School Tour during the 2012/13 season. But the story is much deeper than that. We had offices and performed in the same facility for more than a decade before we really took the time to get to know each other’s work. Plan-B and Gina Bachauer worked together for the first time inside a much larger collaboration, THE ROSE EXPOSED, involving four other companies at the Rose Wagner Performing Arts Center. We were tasked with creating a family-friendly segment of the day’s activities. The result, an interactive staging of PETER AND THE WOLF, was so well received that we expanded the program and toured to more than 10,000 school children, ages K-3, during the 2012/13 season. The theme of this expanded program was “Storytelling Through Music.” My new friends Jay Perry (a brilliant actor), Christy Summerhays (amazingly talented both as actor and director), and I went to work shaping a new program for the tour. At each school Jay took the role of Narrator, introducing the Piano (Daynes Music Company ensured that a Steinway 7′ grand piano was delivered to each of the 28 schools we toured to!) and explaining the various ways that a story could be...

Actor Jay Perry's takeaway from the Free Elementary School Tour

Jay Perry narrated Plan-B’s first Free Elementary School Tour, Sergei Prokofiev’s PETER AND THE WOLF in partnership with Gina Bachauer International Piano Foundation, which was seen by more than 10,000 elementary students. Davis Arts Council and Salt Lake Symphony partnered on various legs of the tour. I’ve been working as actor with Plan-B since 2005 and in that time I’ve had the pleasure of performing for some really wonderful audiences. Our audiences are smart, diverse and extremely generous. They are our friends and critics, our neighbors and family members, our contemporaries and partners and, when we’re lucky enough to perform for them, they’re our children. Any actor who’s performed for kids will tell you that they keep you honest. They’re the toughest audience of all and need you to be engaged and real or they’ll quickly lose interest and start getting restless. They appreciate your authenticity and will let you know if they don’t see it. I’ve performed with Plan-B on both coasts, in concert halls and black box theatres, in rooms large and small, and no audience has been so immediately, viscerally communicative and engaging as an auditorium full of children. The feeling of an entire elementary school laughing, gasping, responding and making wolf faces back at pianist Kary Billings from Gina Bachauer International Piano Foundation and me as we told our story with music and words was absolutely magical. I’ve always felt fortunate to be an actor working in a community that shows so much support for its artists and I’m especially proud to work with an artistic organization that honors and supports its community the way...

Producing Director Jerry Rapier on creating the Free Elementary School Tour

Jerry Rapier has been Plan-B’s Producing Director since 2000. His son Oscar is now two and has changed how he sees everything. Since the market crash of 2008, myriad arts faculty positions at elementary, middle and high schools in Utah have been cut back to half-time and, in some cases, the programs either relegated to after-school activities or cut altogether. Funding for buses for field trips has also become so limited that the once-common arts field trip is quickly becoming a thing of the past. According to The Salt Lake Tribune, Utah boasted the largest average class size but still managed to rank 12th nationwide in per-pupil spending in 1996. By 2012 (the most recent comprehensive data available), Utah still boasted the largest average class size but had dropped to 50th in per-pupil spending ($6,193 or 70% below the national average of $10,608). In response, Plan-B launched its Free Elementary School Tour, the first-ever educational tour from a professional theatre company in Utah focused on new work created specifically for elementary students. Envisioned as a six-year project featuring five commissions (the first year of the tour was PETER AND THE WOLF, a rare Plan-B production of an existing title), the goal is to provide free, professional, in-school performance at Title I schools while adding five new plays to the canon of theatre for young audiences (two for 4-6, three for K-3). During last year’s tour of DIFFERENT=AMAZING by Matthew Ivan Bennett (an anti-bullying piece drawn from the real-life experiences of Utah elementary students), I was energized by how well we were connecting with 4-6 graders. A few schools opted to...

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