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Grants Awarded to School Theatre Programs Impacted by Natural Disasters

Thespians singing on stage at the International Thespian Festival

Two schools damaged by recent natural disasters will receive grants to aid their recovery thanks to a grant funded by licensing agency Music Theatre International (MTI) via Educational Theatre Foundation.

The two schools receiving grants are Washington Middle School of Cairo, Georgia and Palm Bay Prep Academy of Panama City, Florida.

Washington Middle School is home to Junior Thespian Troupe 88011. It was impacted by a tornado that hit Cairo in March 2019. Palm Bay Prep Academy has both Thespian Troupe 7949 and Junior Thespian Troupe 89159. It was severely damaged by Hurricane Michael in October 2018.

Washington Middle School will use the grant money to fund the backdrops and sets for their 2020 spring musical, Grease. Junior Thespian troupe director Austin Harrell says that the tornado came three weeks before the Washington/Shiver Drama Club production of Disney’s The Little Mermaid. With the loss of seven school days, many teachers backed out of taking their students to see the production for their field trip, which resulted in lower ticket sales and a loss in revenue for the drama program.

Harrell says, “We are a rural, Title One school as it is, and this loss of revenue has greatly impacted our show season.” She continues, “Unfortunately we are not currently in a position where we can raise these extra funds as our community is still recovering from this devastating tornado.”

Palm Bay Prep Academy plans to use the grant money to fund their school musical, Seussical Jr., and purchase a curtain and sound and lighting equipment. Thespian troupe director Shelly Blancq says, “Our theater classroom, which housed our entire script library, and the auditorium, our performance space, was part of the demolished buildings.” Since the school has exceeded the insurance payouts in the rebuilding process, the extracurriculars were left to fend for themselves.

However, Blancq remains hopeful, saying, “Our students have proven the old adage, the ‘show must go on.’ Despite these hardships, we still managed to participate in both state and district International Thespian Society festivals in the high school and middle school levels.” She continues, “Theater can be extremely therapeutic, and, in my opinion, there is no better way to build a sense of community than through a strong connection in the arts.”

The ETF grant application site remains open with a goal of assisting any schools that may only now be able to evaluate their needs. Impact may include damage or destruction of equipment and facilities, cancellations of events, loss of projected revenue, dislocation of faculty and students, and related issues.

ETF President Julie Cohen Theobald, said, “We are so grateful to generous donors and partners such as MTI who appreciate how having theatre in schools has a positive impact on the entire school and its community. These grants are in direct support of ETF’s mission to provide financial support where it is needed most.”

MTI President and CEO, Drew Cohen, said, “In a perfect world, there wouldn’t be a need for these grants, but these schools have demonstrated quite clearly why, in the real world, it is imperative for organizations to provide support when circumstances warrant. The theatre community prides itself on being there for one another and we are proud to work with ETF to be there for these schools and their students.”


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