A little over a month ago, Kathleen Huston, a member of the board of directors for the Edmonds-based theater company Driftwood Players, recalls seeing a little girl sitting with her mother when she saw a poster for “The Wizard of Oz,” now showing at the Wade James Theater. She pointed at the poster with excitement and declared that she would see it.
This Sunday, Dec. 15, the Take a Kid to the Theater program will give the two of them — along with 63 others mothers and children living at one of the YWCA Pathways for Women shelter locations in Snohomish County — to see Driftwood’s production of “The Wizard of Oz.”
“I just thought it would be really great to do something for these kids,” Huston said. “They’re uprooted, often moving. They might have a mother and not a father, and a lot of these women are protected,” referring to those who have a protection order after being victims of domestic violence.
Take a Kid to the Theater, Huston’s brainchild, brought its first group of viewers to the Wade James Theater to see the Missoula Children’s Theater production of Jack and the Beanstalk in the summer of 2012. At this time, Huston’s sister was working for the YWCA, and she got Huston in touch with Noelle Nishida, children’s advocate at the YWCA Pathways for Women location in Lynnwood.
Nishida loves event planning, she said, so when Huston explained her vision for Take a Kid to the Theater, Nishida quickly got on board. One of the first major obstacles the organization faced was transportation. The women’s group at the Mountlake Terrace Christian Church had helped the YWCA with transportation in the past, so Nishida got in touch with them.
Tonya Williams, president of the women’s group at the Mountlake Terrace Christian Church, began working with the YWCA because she wanted to do an outreach project that reached out to women in need.
“We wanted to support them and just be there for them,” Williams said.
Lila Baer, a driver, clerk and dispatcher for King’s Schools Transportation, was a member of that women’s group. After Williams told Baer that the YWCA needed transportation to the theater, she offered to donate her time as a driver.
“I love children. There’s no reason that we should exempt them from being able to go if there’s a way to do it,” Baer said. “They already have enough struggles that they are dealing with. If we can help them, let’s do it.”
This is how the three major players came together in 2012—and it is due to their continued involvement that the Take a Kid to the Theater program has become what it is today.
The program began with a simple goal, as the program’s name would suggest: taking these kids to the theater, giving them an experience they likely would not have had before. Participants were given a chance to see child actors, approximately the same ages as the kids viewing the show, perform on a live stage and — as Huston said — it all just came together. But already, in two years, it has grown to be something more.
At least once every three months, it is Huston’s hope to have the program host mini-workshops to further expose the kids to theater, which might be an improvisation or acting workshop, for example.
“One thing I wasn’t planning on when we first started the program was having the parents join the kids, but having them come to the show and seeing how excited their kids are, they’re much more supportive of the whole process.” Huston said. “Some of them are surprised at how excited the kids are.”
One girl living at Pathways has even started taking regular acting classes after being exposed to theater through the Take a Kid to the Theater program.
Huston has solicited donations from the Edmonds Chamber of Commerce, and uses the donated funds to purchase snacks for the kids to have during intermission. She also plans on having scholarships for these children to attend the summer Missoula Children’s Theater camps. Huston has even asked a few of the other parents who have kids involved with the theater about making extra lunches for kids who receive scholarships for the summer programs — and they are willing to help.
Donations also go to the production of DVDs that the kids can take home with them. One 4-year-old boy living at Pathways immediately asked Nishida when he would get to watch the DVD after seeing the show live.
“They were all so excited, they all ran down to the front (of the Pathways shelter) to watch the show,” Nishida said. “They keep asking about when they will get to go back, asking out of the blue.”
The show this Sunday will be the first main stage show that the Take a Kid to the Theater program will take kids to see. As a kid-friendly show with an extremely popular movie, the kids involved with the program are all excited to see “The Wizard of Oz.”
“I’m looking forward to seeing their reactions,” Nishida said. “It’s going to be great to see the families all together.”
It will also be the first show the kids have seen during the holiday season.
“We have so many great donors during the holidays, but nothing like a ticket to a live show,” Nishida said. “This is an opportunity they may never have been given otherwise.”
Huston admits that her project has been a lot more work than she originally thought it would be, but everyone involved supports one another and the program has exceeded the expectations of everyone involved.
“I didn’t realize it was this big of an endeavor when I first started it, but sometimes it’s best that you don’t know that,” she said. “We’re lucky to have had people at the (YWCA) location who have been there with us from the beginning.”
Huston’s passion and personality have made the collaboration enjoyable for Nishida.
“She’s passionate, bubbly and she’s got this great big smile on her face when she talks about her collaboration here,” Nishida said of Huston. “I have extreme passion for the YWCA, so it’s good to work with someone who is like-minded.”
The main concern Huston has for Take a Kid to the Theater is, naturally, funding. She funded the first trip in August 2012 herself, because she just wanted to see if there was interest and if the project was possible. This Sunday’s trip has a budget of $1,300, which Huston said is the most money this project has needed for any one show.
Organizers do fundraisers within the community and at the Chamber of Commerce, but Huston has bigger plans. Now that Take a Kid to the Theater is becoming an ongoing project, Huston has applied for a few grants, including a grant from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.
“We really do need bigger money to make sure we’ve got it all covered,” she said, “and we hope to expand the project with time.”
— Story by Natalie Covate