Students experience live theater through Smith Center program

It’s not unusual for The Smith Center for the Performing Arts to have a full house, but it isn’t every day that hundreds of audience members pour into the theater at once to fill the room to capacity.

“When you see them come through those doors, they are amazed,” said Sue Graff, office manager for the Clark County School District’s School-Community Partnership Program. “Well, anyone would be amazed by that building, but for these kids, for a lot of them, it’s the first time they’ve seen anything like that.”

About 1,500 second- and third-graders from the district showed up Feb. 11 to watch a free performance of “The Musical Adventures of Flat Stanley,” based on a children’s book. The Smith Center hosts such special performances several times a year as part of its Student Matinee Program. Other recent shows the program has offered include “Story Pirates” and “Dinosaur Train.” Upcoming shows include “The Gruffalo’s Child” and “School House Rocks.”

Before the students’ visit to the The Smith Center, study materials and guides were distributed to the teachers. Many of the performances are related to books, and in those cases, copies of the book are distributed to students.

“The matinee program is a foundation piece of our education and outreach program at The Smith Center,” said Candy Schneider, vice president of education and outreach for the facility. “We’re delighted to have the opportunity to bring students to experience live performances. There have been very few opportunities like this in the valley before this program. The Las Vegas Philharmonic has been doing free concerts for children since its inception, but there have been very few opportunities for children to see live theater.”

Last year, more than 70,000 schoolchildren attended the special matinees. The program is designed to give every student in the valley the opportunity to experience live theater.

“We bring in kids from all over the valley,” Schneider said. “We work closely with the school district, private, charter and home-school organizations to get the word out. It’s a jigsaw puzzle trying to fit in all of those that are requesting to be here. We are careful to make sure the opportunity is there for students from different socioeconomic areas and all grade levels.”

It’s another jigsaw puzzle to schedule the shows. Organizers have to find a gap in the schedule that coincides with an appropriate show that is touring within a reasonable distance. The performances are usually during the week because The Smith Center is busier on the weekends. The shows bring elaborate sets and props, so they can’t be scheduled on the same dates as another show that is scheduled at night.

The program is funded by an entity that wishes to remain anonymous to the general public. The shows are free for the students and their chaperones and teachers who attend the performance. The only thing that isn’t covered is transportation.

“The program is open to all of the schools, but some of them are unwilling to allocate funds from their budget for transportation,” Graff said. “Some schools have found donors who help them attend. If someone is interested in doing that, they just have to call the school and say they would like to fund it.”

The program has been popular, and The Smith Center receives thousands of thank-you letters from children and praise from educators who come to the performances.

“The kids show up in their best clothes, even if that just means clean jeans and a T-shirt,” Schneider said. “A little boy came up to me wide-eyed as they were coming in and asked me, ‘Can I live here?’ It’s great for these kids to come in and see something different and learn about live theater.”

Contact East Valley View reporter F. Andrew Taylor at ataylor@viewnews.com or 702-380-4532.

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