CFA Celebrates 11 Years of the BP Learned Mission Theater Program
*Photos reflect the spirit of CFA and are not of any individuals associated with these stories
Eleven years ago a young boy asked me, “Can we put on a show?” I remember exactly where we were standing in the lobby of the BP Learned Mission. The doors to the theater were just feet away. The theater was built as part of a renovation and expansion that occurred when CFA merged with the BP Learned Mission in 2003. The space is named after the late Jim Smith, a kind and caring soul, who wanted the children to have a place to learn and create. Mr. Smith supported the Mission, both pre- and post-merger, when economic times made it almost impossible to keep the doors open.
By the summer of 2007, the renovation was nearly complete. The Jim Smith Youth Center included a gym and a theater and larger classrooms that could hold more children afterschool and during the summer time. In the theater, the curtain hadn’t been hung yet and there probably should have been a wet paint sign on the stage! We had a very small staff and a large group of New London youth, aged 5-12, many of whom had never had the chance to sing, dance, and act in a musical before.
But, despite all the reasons we had to say “no” or “we’ll see” or “that might be too hard”, Karen, a long-time BP staff member, joined me in answering the child with a resounding and excited “YES!” The child who wanted to perform had just moved to New London from New York and had skill and talent that just seemed to spring from every fiber of his being. There was no way to say no to his enthusiasm and excitement.
What we thought would be a short little performance of “The Wizard of Oz” for parents and close friends became three sold out performances of a pretty magical work of art created by 35 children and staff members. The young boy who came up with the idea to “put on a show” played the “Scarecrow” and wowed the audience with his dancing abilities. Today, he is working as a theater arts educator in New London! The “Tinman” had incredible line interpretation and brought the audience to tears during the finale. He went on to study theater in middle school and high school and worked at the Garde Arts Center. “Auntie Em” and “Uncle Henry” were played by CFA/BP employees (Karen and Dave!). Karen has performed in every single BP show since then and Dave opens up each performance with his hysterical announcements. This summer one of our first “Emerald Citizens” came home from her freshman year at the University of Connecticut to work with us through New London Youth Affairs. She has spent the summer painting props, making costumes, and teaching the young performers about diction and facial expressions.
Since “The Wizard of Oz”, the BP Theater Program blossomed. We produced 28 more shows. Close to 700 performers learned more than 300 songs and dances. They have helped create countless props, costumes, and set pieces and memorized the lines from hundreds of pages of scripts!
But what has been truly incredible is watching the children who participated in the Theater Program grow and develop as we’ve used the arts, not as a platform to create stars or perfection, but as a vehicle to promote discipline, cooperation, creativity, and teamwork. Lessons of paying attention to detail, depending on one another to accomplish something great, and determination and hard work, have been passed down through all of the generations of the program.
We are one week away from performing this summer’s production of “Peter Pan”. We hope you’ll join us and see the magic for yourself. Come see 30 incredible human beings – children, staff, and even a long-time CFA volunteer and Board Member (“Miss Mary”!) sing, dance, act, and show you how capable and amazing young people are.
They are truly awe-inspiring.
We know you’ll think so too.
Peter Pan will be performed on August 15, 16, & 17, 2018 at 7:00 PM at the BP Learned Mission. BP is located at 40 Shaw Street, New London, CT 06320. All tickets are $1.00. Please arrive early as seating is limited!
*At Child and Family Agency we respect everyone who comes to us for help – and many are working toward a fresh start in life. So while their stories are true, client names, identifying details, and images may have been changed to protect their privacy. Thank you for understanding.