Culture – The Art of Having Fun

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Center Players bring fun and national recognition to the arts in Elizabeth City. Elizabeth City has never met a group who understood the “art of having fun” as much as the Arts of the Albemarle’s Center Players. Not only do they have fun, but this talented group of students earned national recognition at the Junior Theatre Festival (JTF) in Atlanta, GA, in January 2014.

The Center Players began during the fall of 2009 with nine students as part of Holly Wright’s vision to teach jazz, tap, drama, and music to kids. The troupe’s first presentation included excerpts from Annie, Jr. for an audience of 100. A few months later they performed “Zambezi Rhythms” for the local hospital gala featuring excerpts from the Lion King and hand-painted costumes by Ida Muldro who has since been hired to make costumes for Disney. As the Players grew to almost 50 students, so did their staffing needs. Both a music director and drama director were hired while Wright continued as the choreographer and artistic director.

The Center Players have completed five seasons, with major shows each fall and spring such as: Alice in Wonderland, Jr., Aladdin, Jr., The Music Man, Jr., Beauty & the Beast, Jr., and musical showcases “Salute to the Tonys,” and “Bring Down the House,” plus others.

Through it all, Wright offers this advice: “Don’t do anything unless you’re having fun.”Elizabeth City NC Art - Play

“When Holly learned about the JTF, we thought it would be a wonderful experience for our students,” said music director Billy Caudle, so the Players prepared to enter the 2014 festival. Laurie Hull, drama director, explained, “We wanted the kids to have a peer experience outside Elizabeth City and to see possibilities of careers in the arts.” 

The festival, sponsored by Musical Theatre International (MTI) and iTheatrics, is a celebration of the arts where students interact with their peers and learn from actors who are show professionals and Broadway veterans. The group prepared a 15-minute compressed version of a show with a simple beginning, middle, and end – all while maintaining the original storyline. There were no costumes, sets, or props except for four “acting boxes,” or multi-purpose staging pieces, to be used creatively in the performance. They chose Beauty & the Beast, Jr. and were then judged alongside almost 5,000 other students from across the country at the Atlanta, GA event.

Caudle pointed out that they could not be successful without tremendous support from our community. “It takes a village, and we have a village of volunteers,” he said. Parents and others have helped with fundraising, chaperoning, backstage work, and more.

“Our focus is on providing a safe place for kids to be themselves, explore their creativity and have shared experiences,”

“Our focus is on providing a safe place for kids to be themselves, explore their creativity and have shared experiences,” says Hull. “Give them a chance to create, and accountability comes along with it. When kids are allowed to express themselves, it builds self-confidence, self-discipline, and pride in ownership.” One example of that confidence-building is Lauren Luther,
a five-year veteran of the group, who said she began with feelings of self-consciousness and a little fear. Now she smiles and explains that The Center Players is a diverse group of best friends she now considers to be like family. Potato-Fest-0139-JRI

“Come join the family and know that you are capable,” she says. “Don’t put yourself in a box!”

Luther attributes her success and growth in self-confidence to The Center Players. “People don’t know what they can do because they’ve been told ‘no,’ but with the opportunity for self-discovery, you find out what you can do, and what you can offer others. I love how the arts make people blossom,” Luther adds.

The Center Players recently returned from their second year at JTF 2015, where they presented Once On This Island. You can see The Center Players this May with their public performance of “Legally Blonde, Jr.” at the Arts of the Albemarle’s Maguire Theatre. 

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