MTI Disaster Relief Grant Provides Hope to Theatre Programs Impacted by Natural Disasters

Washington Middle School's tornado damage
Washington Middle School's tornado damage

By the time Washington Middle School’s drama club applied for the ETF Music Theatre International (MTI) Disaster Relief Grant, the future of their program was uncertain.

Three weeks before Washington Middle School’s 2019 drama club production of Disney’s The Little Mermaid, a tornado ripped through their town. While the school remained intact, the tornado caused widespread damage across Cairo, Georgia. Dozens of homes and businesses were covered in debris, uprooted trees, and fallen streetlights.

When storm recovery caused students across the city to miss a week of school, Junior Thespian troupe director Austin Harrell, knew teachers who planned to bring students to the production for field trips would be unable to do so, resulting in lower ticket sales and revenue loss.

“We are a rural, Title One school and the loss of revenue greatly impacted our show season,” said Harrell, “Unfortunately we were not in a position where we could raise extra funds as our community was still recovering from this devastating tornado.”

The MTI Disaster Relief Grant, an award underwritten by Music Theatre International for school theatre programs impacted by storms, floods, fires, or other unforeseeable events, made it possible for Washington Middle to afford the backdrops and sets for their 2020 spring musical, Grease.

The grant was also awarded to Palm Bay Prep Academy of Panama City, Florida, a school affected by Hurricane Michael in 2018. Palm Bay’s theatre classroom which housed their entire script library, auditorium, and performance space were all demolished during the storm.

When the school exceeded its insurance payouts in the rebuilding process, extracurriculars including the theatre program were left to fend for themselves. The MTI Disaster Relief Grant funded Palm Bay’s next musical, Seussical Jr., and allowed them to purchase a curtain and sound and lighting equipment.

Palm Bay Thespian troupe director Shelly Blanc believed the grant made students hopeful since theatre is one of the best places for students to heal in times of disaster.

“Our students have proven the old adage, the ‘show must go on,’” said Blanc, “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.”

Schools affected by natural disasters resulting in damaged or destroyed equipment and facilities, cancellation of events, loss of projected revenue, dislocation of faculty and students are eligible for the MTI Disaster Relief Grant (now called the Thespian Relief Grant). The grant application site is open to any schools currently in need.

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