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    Updated July 14, 2014

Equity Works: 5 Questions for Variety Children’s Theatre

The 2011 production of The Wizard of Oz at the Variety Children’s Theatre. This marked the company’s third production of pairing professional AEA actors alongside children with disabilities.

Photo by ProPhoto STL

Congratulations to Variety Children’s Theatre, a St. Louis theatre that will start its LOA to LORT Contract with its 2015 production of Disney’s The Little Mermaid. Here are five questions with the company’s CEO and Producer, Jan Albus.

Q:  What does the transition from an LOA contract to a LORT contract mean for the theatre?

A: It gives us greater status in the theatre community as totally legitimate and professional. This gives the actors the assurance that Variety is striving to meet all their needs in order to produce the best performances.

Q: How many Equity members do you anticipate working with for your fall production of Disney’s The Little Mermaid?

A: We will have 8 Equity actors and one Equity PSM for Disney’s The Little Mermaid.

Q: Where did the idea to pair professional actors alongside children with disabilities originate? What do you hope everyone on stage takes away from the experience?

A: I came up with the idea after our Variety Children’s Chorus had finished an engagement to perform at the White House. They were demonstrating that they could handle the singing, choreography and staging requirements that could lead to performing in a full-fledged musical. Their director was a former Broadway actor, Nance St. James, so they were comfortable with music theory, proper vocal production, stage presence, etc. It was a natural progression. 
I worked hard to make sure that all the designers and directors for VCT had an affinity for children. Six years later I have the same team, headed up by another Tony nominated actor, Lara Teeter.  Everyone on stage has a great appreciation for attributes like perseverance, diversity and respect for their God-given talents. The work ethic is strong considering the everyday challenges our Variety children tackle. This year’s children’s ensemble consists of children with spina bifida, autism, cerebral palsy, Down’s syndrome, cochlear implantees, etc. Our professional actors realize, once working with these children, how fortunate they are to know these special kids and see their growth each year. Many have said it’s the greatest theatrical experience they’ve ever had.

Q: What has the Variety Children’s Theatre come to mean to the region’s community?

A: In the St. Louis community, VCT is looked upon as a one-of-a-kind asset. Having garnered an NEA grant for the productions, as well as the Regional Arts Council grant for its unique approach to classic musical theatre, we have carved out a niche that nationally has not been replicated in any other city. The Kennedy Center for the Arts is currently considering VCT for a special grant based on our VCT Intern Program, which offers Variety teens the opportunity to work with our designers and directors to achieve measurable outcomes related to their capabilities in each theatrical production such as sound, lights, directing, costumes, etc.

Q: What’s in store for Variety Children’s Theatre’s future?

A: In the future we will introduce another opportunity for our “Biz Kids” to intern with professionals who work on the business aspects of the production:  marketing, sales, publicity and others.

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