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Forty Years Young

Article Published: Apr. 12, 2012 | Modified: Apr. 16, 2012
Forty Years Young

From right, the Old Man (Will Allen) tries to trade Jack (Luke Schaffer) magic beans for his beloved milk cow (Kelli Letner) in ‘BEANS TALK: A Cow, Some Beans and a Boy Named Jack,’ Appalachian Young People’s Theatre’s latest production.

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The Appalachian Young People’s Theatre has long been a best-kept cultural secret.

Formed in 1972 by Ed Pilkington, now Appalachian State University professor emeritus, the AYPT’s mission was to use educational theater to help broaden the sights and successes of young children in the mountain region.

“Shows were designed to help teach components, such as math, language arts and spelling,” said Pilkington, who utilized college students to tour shows for schoolchildren.

He helped train his successor, technical director Vernon Carroll, who was the next leader of the company, running it from 1977 through 1981.

Carroll incorporated direct audience participation in AYPT shows.

“It always, always worked,” he said, crediting the students for the effectiveness of the technique. “It was very rare that there was a student who didn’t buy into it.”

Carroll also acknowledged the AYPT is fertile training ground for college-aged performers, perhaps more so than performing for their peers. “With child audiences, there’s no place to hide,” he said.

Jonathan Ray took over the leadership in 1981 and often wrote the scripts for the group based on the talents of the group enrolled in the AYPT class. Since the beginning, the troupe has been structured as a three-credit class, meeting twice a week to rehearse the play during class hours, and then touring the show for the second part of the semester.

Teresa Lee took over the AYPT in 1988 and has been at the helm ever since, making her the longest serving director of the organization. “I was hired to direct the AYPT and direct the theater education program,” said Lee, now in her 24th year at the university.

She found the job a perfect fit, saying, “I have an MFA in directing children’s theater … it was a dream job for me.”

Like Carroll, Lee credits the students for much of the success of the program. “I’m always amazed at the commitment, talent and energy my students bring to the whole process,” she said.

“The theater is this little jewel that we have within our department that benefits on so many levels,” Lee said. “We’re helping to inspire and train the college students, and encouraging the audiences and artists of the future, as well.”

For its 40th anniversary season, the AYPT is performing “BEANS TALK: A Cow, Some Beans and a Boy Named Jack,” a new spin on Jack and the Beanstalk. The script is by local playwright Derek Davidson, and the cast includes one member who is very familiar with AYPT’s work.

As a student at Hardin Park Elementary in Boone, ASU student Ashley Harkins saw many plays by the local troupe. “I remember seeing the big kids come in and do shows for us,” said Harkins, who is a theater education major.

She finds the camaraderie the best part of performing with the AYPT. “It’s a really great cast … it’s been a really awesome experience, and I don’t want it to end,” she said.

The Appalachian Young People’s Theatre is also marking its anniversary by announcing a new scholarship initiative for students who intend to have a career in theater for young audiences. The scholarship will be funded partially by proceeds of the program and partially by individuals. Lee feels this is an appropriate way to honor one of the oldest outreach programs at the university.

“BEANS TALK” will be performed for the public this weekend at the I.G. Greer Theatre on the ASU campus. Shows are at 7:30 p.m. Friday and at 2 p.m. Saturday and Sunday. The public is invited to attend a 40th birthday party for the theater after the show on Saturday.

Tickets are from $6 to $10, and reservations can be made by calling (828) 262-3063.

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