Theaters were among the first to go “dark”—an industry term meaning that no events or performances are scheduled—during the current COVID-19 pandemic. No Boundaries Youth Theater in New Britain has been no exception, and the children’s theater has cancelled or postponed classes and performances along with thousands of other arts and cultural venues throughout the country.
Unlike other theaters though, NBYT had to cancel all events on the day of its tenth birthday celebration. Like many theaters, NBYT has still found a way to reach its audience.
Despite program cancellations and postponements, NBYT is staying connected to its participants and audience through social media. Managing Director Ed Richters, who began in the position in October of last year, emphasized, “Just because NBYT has had to shut its doors does not mean we’ve abandoned our mission. Throughout this period of isolation and uncertainty, NBYT will look for new and creative ways to reach our community so that we can do our part to keep the arts and arts education in people’s lives as they practice social distancing.”
Artistic Director Nicki LaPorte, who has been a teaching artist with the company since 2011, has begun posting daily activities on Facebook for NBYT participants or anyone else who’d like to follow. The theater’s former Executive Director, Darren Farrington, has been digging into the company’s photo archives to post a picture every day in a “Photo Challenge” on Facebook and Instagram.
“I wanted to release these daily theater activities to give the youth in our community (and beyond) a much-needed creative outlet right now,” LaPorte said. “The arts are so important in a young person’s development. These daily posts also serve to remind our NBYT families that we are here, and we plan on being here when everything goes back to a new normal.” School districts and other drama teachers have noticed and begun sharing the posts as well.
The children’s company was founded as New Britain Youth Theater in 2010 (filing for incorporation on March 15 of that year) and changed its name in 2018 to reflect that NBYT is—and always has been—a youth theater that accepts children from all towns and communities, with all abilities and levels of experience, and to be involved in a variety of ways both onstage and off. Beginning with a single afterschool program, the nonprofit theater now produces a full season of performances by and for children and young adults, conducts classes, offers homeschool enrichment programs, and brings curriculum-aligned educational programs into classrooms throughout Central Connecticut. In 2017, the group was selected by ConnecticutMagazine as Connecticut’s Best Children’s Theater.
Among the programs that NBYT has had to put on hold are several classes and rehearsals for two productions. An adaptation of The Hobbit was to be performed in early May by actors ages 10 through 18. Younger children, ages 6 through 9, were also in rehearsal for late-May performances of Seas the Day: A Little Mermaid Tale, an original script written by local theatermakers Matt Austin and Anthony DePoto based on the Hans Christian Andersen fairy tale.
Noah Devanney, 12, of Newington, and longtime NBYT veteran, said, “I’m disappointed to be missing Hobbit rehearsals because I was so excited about playing Bilbo and now we’re not sure it’s going to happen. This is my first lead role and I’m hoping we can still perform even if it’s later. I miss working with the directors, and most of all, I miss my friends from NBYT.” Noah’s sister Madison, 8, is also a frequent NBYT participant, and is hoping to participate in the theater’s summer production.
In another town, Jessica Schnaufer, 16, of Plainville, and also a longtime NBTY participant, misses the social and emotional benefits that the organization provides to so many children. “NBYT knows how to help people with differences,” she said. “During this break, I miss seeing my friends and the directors.” Jessica’s brother Matthew, 13, is in the Hobbit cast and has participated in all-inclusive programming and other classes with the theater. He is upset also and misses rehearsals.
Although the theater also cancelled a party for the tenth anniversary and has put planning for a spring gala on hold, LaPorte and Richters have begun preparing for their summer production and have opened registration. “Some parents have begun asking about summer registration, so we’ve begun a placeholder list in hopes that the program will go forward,” said Richters. Recognizing the uncertainty of the current health and economic crisis however, families may register without making a deposit. This year’s summer production, which annually brings together participants from ages 6 through 18, will be Seussical JR. It will be the first script that NBYT has repeated in its ten years of productions, and there are plans to include some past participants of the theater in a special way.
Richters also speaks of the importance of supporting NBYT and other arts organizations during this crisis. “Imagine you were stuck inside with nothing to watch, no games to play, no books to read. As you and your family seek to occupy yourselves during the coming weeks, I encourage everyone to evaluate the amount of art and entertainment you are absorbing or participating in and the value it adds to your life.” He adds, “Please take a moment to support your artist friends and local arts organizations who are struggling in this time of great upheaval.”
For program developments, registration links, donation opportunities, and general information about No Boundaries Youth Theater, please visit the company’s website at www.nbyt.org, email email@example.com, or call 860-515-8115.
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