This article originally appeared in our January/February 2022 edition of Local profile.
Check out the full issue online and learn how North Texas Performing Arts is celebrating more than 30 years of putting kids first, and how we celebrating our 40th anniversary serving Collin County!
One day, about three years ago, Jude Scott came to his parents with a simple but life-changing idea.
“I want to act,” he told them.
Through a quick online search of local theater troupes, Jude, who was 9 at the time, had already identified the troupe he would join: North Texas Performing Arts (NTPA), a nonprofit theater company . Oh, and he had found an agent.
READ: The 20 best kids’ theaters you can find in Collin County and Dallas, TX
“None of this was forced by the parents,” says her mother, Natosha. “His dad and I were happy to do whatever we could to support him, but we didn’t have big Hollywood dreams. That was all Jude. When he came to see us, we just said, ‘ OK. You’ve done your homework; let’s do this.'”
In the years since that fateful Google search, Jude has starred in so many NTPA productions that even he has lost count. He also enrolled in the NTPA Academy (a theater-focused school open to part-time and full-time students) and took a myriad of private lessons from the company’s educators. Her mother also got in on the act: Natosha is one of the weekend house managers and she coordinated concessions at the NTPA’s Willow Bend location.
“I want to support his dreams in any way I can because I see how he lights up when he’s on stage,” Natosha says.
She also wholeheartedly believes in what North Texas Performing Arts offers young people like Jude.
“We live in Texas, where football is king and the arts are not always supported. When you say, “Oh, I want to play,” people look at you sideways. But at the NTPA, these children have a home. And I’ve seen it work wonders for Jude and so many others.
“It’s a family”
North Texas Performing Arts was founded in Plano approximately 30 years ago, and the organization has continued to expand its reach in North Texas ever since. Its mission – to ensure that all young people have the opportunity to experience theater and have their voices heard – has fueled this growth, and the NTPA is now comprised of five youth theater troupes; the Starcatchers program for children and adults with dementia; the Academy; and a repertoire theater for adults.
“It’s a family,” says Lauren Boykin, the organization’s senior marketing manager. “We teach drama, of course, but what we really focus on is how we teach kids to be better human beings: whether they become a Broadway star, or a doctor, or wherever the life leads them.”
To that end, North Texas Performing Arts focuses each of its efforts on what they call their “10 Personas,” which include Responsibility, Respect, Integrity, and Gratitude.
“We support each other,” Boykin adds, “and that’s huge with our families and our staff.”
This support was especially critical when the COVID-19 pandemic hit North Texas.
READ: How North Texas Performing Arts adapted to virtual learning…and it became a success
Like most people, Boykin says NTPA executives thought they could resume rehearsals and productions after a few weeks. But when a few weeks turned into a few months, teachers and administrators started hearing from parents.
“When we closed, we heard many families pleading with us, ‘As soon as you can, please open your doors again. Our children need you,” Boykin said. “Unfortunately, the theater was taken away from them for a while.”
Natosha says she noticed a big change with Jude when North Texas Performing Arts productions went on hiatus. It was the same creative child, she says, but it feels like something is missing. He was offering to lead prayer at church because he lacked telling stories; he failed to take the lead, as the 10 characters taught him to do.
So when the NTPA finally took over in the summer of 2020, it felt like a switch had been flipped inside its son. His light, his passion, that intangible “something” that had been missing for too long: he was back.
Of course, the theater looked a little different that summer. Principals and staff have gone to great lengths to ensure everyone’s safety and comfort, and their efforts have had a clear impact on the students.
Later that fall, a young theater attendee took safety measures so seriously that he asked his teachers if he could be isolated just before his show’s tech week.
“He’s a young boy, but he always comes up to his teachers at school and says, ‘I’m on this show and I’m around a lot of kids every day,'” Boykins said. “He asks permission to sit apart during lessons and lunch, all because he wanted to keep everyone safe. Can you imagine a child asking to be alone like that? It’s a big problem.
Boykin has a lot of stories like that: stories of kids doing whatever it takes to keep the show going. Throughout the summer of 2020 and into the fall, some students joined rehearsals via Zoom. Some plays have even continued this way, with a large screen set up right next to the stage, and young actors and actresses in full costume reading their lines and singing their lyrics on a laptop computer in their living room.
Unorthodox? May be. But “teamwork” is one of the 10 traits, and if your teammate is ready to perform guys and dolls Where jekyll and hyde via Zoom, what more could you ask for? This collaborative spirit is one of the reasons Boykin believes so strongly that theater creates kind and compassionate humans.
“As with sports, kids have to work as a team,” she says. “The difference is that they build a story together. They create something from scratch and learn essential skills like communication and collaboration. Especially when it’s all so tech-focused, it’s a chance to put the phones down and create something together. Plus, it was really cool to see our kids adapt to new situations, new challenges, and things we had never even thought of.
Children like Jude. While he was sometimes shy when talking about his budding acting career on the phone, Jude’s voice came alive every time he started talking about how North Texas Performing Arts has shaped who he is. today.
“It helped me open up more and be more comfortable with who I am,” he says. “It also introduced me to so many people who are willing to support my dreams. I want to be an actor and a director, and they made that possible.
“I have to say it: it changed our lives”
Most people involved in North Texas Performing Arts in one way or another have met the Long family. After all, three of the four children in the family have been heavily involved in the organization over the years, and one of them, Edelweiss, is named after a famous song by The sound of music.
But while the Longs had a huge impact on the NTPA, family matriarch Amy says North Texas Performing Arts had an even bigger impact on them.
“I have to say: it changed our lives,” she says. “One of our fondest memories will always be seeing our eldest son on stage playing guitar for Edelweiss while two of his siblings are by his side. When our fourth child decided he didn’t want to do theater, I joked with him, ‘Can you just be an extra?’ »
The Longs epitomize just how much of an impact North Texas Performing Arts can have on young North Texas students. Years ago, Amy says a director named Brandon Cunningham took her eldest son, Jackson, under his wing. “He’s the kind of person who meets a child where they are,” Amy says, so that’s what he did with the eldest Long child.
Specifically, Cunningham helped Jackson find a confidence he didn’t even know he had. Jackson was in the background for a few productions, but thanks to his director’s compassionate guidance, he was finally able to take center stage.
In total, he ended up playing the lead role in some 10-15 shows.
“I’ve lost count,” admits her mother.
Jackson, now 21, is working toward a degree in industrial organizational psychology, a career path his family says correlates directly to his time at North Texas Performing Arts.
“Theater has taught him that he loves working with others to build community,” Amy says. “That’s the power of a place like NTPA.”
There’s also 17-year-old Truman, whose involvement in Wretched was so formative that he credits her with helping him get into college. And, of course, there’s Edelweiss, now 11, who Amy says has “grown so much alongside the NTPA.”
She started as a background actress, then moved on to supporting roles and is now perfecting her choreography chops. She has just completed a successful series of Spongeboband looks to future productions.
Whatever happens next, her mother will be in the audience, cheering her on alongside parents like Natosha Scott whose families, like hers, could be changed forever by North Texas Performing Arts.
This article originally appeared in our January/February 2022 edition of the local profile like “The show must go on”.