Center joins Disney to create family programs

WASHINGTON — The Kennedy Center is about to make a hefty increase in its support of arts education, including a new project with Disney Theatrical Prods. and a renovated theater space dedicated to children and family programming.

Kennedy Center prexy Michael Kaiser said the center will earmark $125 million during the next five years to performing arts education, a 47% boost in the amount it was slated to spend. Broad-based effort includes family and kids’ performances, education in schools, career development for aspiring professionals, and arts management training.

Included is a program scheduled to debut in summer 2006 to provide grade-school students with opportunities to create musical productions from the Disney collection. The center will work with Music Theater Intl. and Disney Theatrical Prods. to create musicals and provide assistance for teachers who want to mount them.

Program will pilot with the D.C. school system before rolling out nationally, Kaiser said, adding the project was prompted by a previous collaboration with MTI involving a student production called “Into the Woods Junior.”

Meanwhile, a $10 million federally funded renovation of a 320-seat theater previously used by the American Film Institute will provide its first dedicated space for kid-friendly programming. Slated for completion in December, the Family Theater will offer a proscenium stage with ample backstage space, plush new seats, lighting, sound, ventilation and other upgrades, according to exec veep Claudette Donlon.

Darrell Ayers, VP education, said the initiatives will help the facility better fulfill its role as the National Center for the Performing Arts. He said they will include a dramatically increased presence on the Internet so that the center’s arts management expertise can be spread to arts execs, boards of directors and others. A Web site will allow arts managers around the world to participate in distance learning via Web discussions, case histories and online consulting assistance.

Another new program will enable board members of arts orgs to attend free sessions at the center on budgeting, fund-raising and other strategic issues.

Other new programs include a 15% discount for any teacher purchasing tickets to a performance, more training programs for young performers, use of broadband technology to distribute arts education programming to classrooms, and a plan to showcase backstage activities via the Internet. A biannual symposium on developing plays for young people will be opened to theater companies from around the world.

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