Musicals for Young Audiences: A portal to imagination, inspiration and escape

With literature and live shows, Theatre Under The Stars offers Houston students ‘an immersive experience’

It’s a blend of theatre and literature. And you could say, figuratively speaking, there’s also an element of horticulture in the mix.

“What we’re really doing here is planting a seed for the future,” says Dave Clemmons.

Since 2007, Houston’s Theatre Under The Stars (TUTS) has offered the Musicals for Young Audiences program—a marriage of stage and the written word, with both worlds offering Houston-area schoolkids a portal to inspiration, imagination and escape.

Twice each scholastic year, TUTS distributes free copies of popular kids’ fiction, which is studied in their classrooms, and then invites classloads of elementary and middle school-aged students down to Zilkha Hall, at the Hobby Center for the Performing Arts, to see a stage production of that book.

“When kids can connect the theatre to a piece of literature—they really get immersed in the story, and they see it come to life on stage,” says Clemmons, a nationally recognized teacher, actor and casting director who played Valjean in a U.S. national tour of Les Miserables, and has cast numerous Broadway projects.

“These books and shows are often a great release. They take you away for a couple of hours,” adds Clemmons. “For a lot of these kids, this is their first trip to downtown Houston, let alone to the theatre. You plant a seed—and hope that years later, when they’re in high school or college, that’s when they really connect the dots.”

This spring, as part of the MYA program, TUTS delivered more than 3,700 free copies of Roald Dahl’s surrealistic adventure James and the Giant Peach to students in 41 schools across greater Houston—then treated them to a stage production put on by the theatre’s nationally recognized Humphreys School of Musical Theatre.

Says Crystal Williams, a Grade 4 teacher at Elmore Elementary School: “Our students carry their James and the Giant Peach books everywhere, even to lunch.”

Enbridge is committed to fueling quality of life in the communities where we operate. In 2016, we invested more than $500,000 in community-strengthening initiatives across the state of Texas (and more than $13.4 million across North America), while our employee-driven United Way campaigns in Houston and East Texas raised another $575,000.

Enbridge and KPMG both recently made $12,500 donations to TUTS in support of Musicals for Young Audiences, while we also supported the theatre’s annual fundraising gala, One Night Only, in late March with a $7,500 check.

Prior to the February 2017 merger between Enbridge and Spectra Energy Corp, Spectra had also supported TUTS for more than 40 years.

To date, the MYA program has reached more than 72,000 in the greater Houston area.

“The immersive experience is key,” says Clemmons. “We feel like the more they know about the story, the more meaningful the performance will be to them.”

(TOP PHOTO: Theatre Under The Stars' recent production of James and the Giant Peach, featuring Julian Lammey (center) as James. Photo courtesy, Os Galindo.)