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Alaska Junior Theater to provide virtual performance to students amid pandemic struggles

Alaska Junior Theater
Alaska Junior Theater(Alaska Junior Theater)
Published: Jan. 25, 2021 at 7:07 AM AKST
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ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) - The Alaska Junior Theater was hit hard by the pandemic, but it’s working to keep kids around the theater.

AJT presents live, professional performances to kids and families, often through school districts at the Performing Arts Center. The organization usually sees about 50,000 people in the theater each season, and sometimes as much as 14,000 in one week, according to Executive Director Lainie Dreas.

Dreas expects shows will be canceled through early 2022. That mean’s AJT has no way to make an income. She wasn’t sure the organization would make it.

As of June 2020, Dreas had to lay off her other two staff members and rely on grants and COVID-19 relief funds to stay afloat. But she keeps working to look for funding, do fundraisers and keep AJT on people’s minds.

“It’s just such a treasure to know that we are inviting them into this magical world of theater and teaching them about the world in ways they might never see in exploring,” Dreas said.

Dreas thinks kids are starving for the live performances right now with the amount of time they have been learning virtually.

“It’s just not the same,” Dreas said.

“It’s so hard for them,” she said. “It’s hard on every human that has had to go through this with the social distancing and how much it’s changing how we communicate and how we deal with humans,” she said.

“But there’s a special magic. It’s a once in a lifetime experience every time you walk into a theater, and they’re missing that,” Dreas said.

Kincaid Kindergarten Teacher Mandy McConnell said the theater can help bring a book to life.

When she teaches about farms, her class reads the book “Click Clack Moo, Cows that Type.”

“Then, we can actually go see the show,” She said. “We can connect it with literature, which I also like. Like, here’s another form of the story. And so you can always do that compare and contrast. What do we notice that was different from the show than the book? So, we’re missing that connection.”

And with no performances, Wonder Park Second Grade Teacher Kristie Benson said kids miss out on learning through the theater.

“I think it’s going to severely close their world, not giving them those experiences to expand it,” Benson said, “It’s going to keep their world small and not give them the opportunity to find new passions.”

AJT has paid for the recording of Black Violin for students in Anchorage and the Matanuska-Susitna Valley to view later this semester.

“We’re just hoping that AJT can help by giving [teachers] a few moments, an hour of relief, to help teachers but also to thank them,” Dreas said. “We just want teachers to know that we know it’s been a really hard year for both them and the students, and AJT is here. We care about them. And we want to give something back.”

And while the performance will make up for some classes that had deposited to canceled shows, it will be free to the rest.

It’s AJT’s policy to replace a show when one is missed. Dreas said the organization could not refund deposits at the time of the missed shows “because we had no money. I mean, we were looking at going out of business at the time, we had nothing to give back to the teachers.”

But Dreas said she feels like she needs to give back to them by making the show available to the students “because everybody is going through so much pain right now. So this is what I can do now, because of some of the relief money.”

Benson said, “We could watch in class, and then we could do those extension activities with the kids and really help them grow their brains in that perspective.”

Dreas said she is still working on the logistics of getting the performance to teachers.

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