The second- and third-graders from Walnut Elementary School in New Ross, Indiana, had no idea when they got on the bus this morning that April 16 was their lucky day.
As they filed into Clowes Memorial Hall on Butler University’s campus and assembled for a photo in the lobby, they heard a loud bang. Blue and white streamers rained down, and they got the news: They were the millionth visitors to the Clowes Education Matinee series.
“This is amazing for our students,” says Karen Monts, the school’s librarian, who coordinated the 40-mile trip. “We are from a very small school in a low socioeconomic community, and for many of these kids, it’s a big treat to go to Crawfordsville, Indiana. So coming to Indianapolis is something they almost never do as a family, and coming here, and being honored like this is a once-in-a-lifetime experience for them.”
Over 27 years and 858 performances, the Clowes Education Matinee Series has provided students in kindergarten through 12th grade the opportunity to see live theater—many for the first time. That could mean anything from daytime performances by Butler groups such as the Butler Ballet, the Percussion Ensemble, and the Jazz Ensemble, to national touring productions featuring favorite children’s stories like the Junie B. Jones books, The Magic School Bus, and The Very Hungry Caterpillar, coming to life onstage.
The students from Walnut Elementary School—who won prizes including a free visit to a Clowes matinee next year—were among the approximately 3,800 students from 31 schools who attended the two Tuesday morning performances of Junie B. Jones.
“Being able to bring them to Junie B. and seeing something they read come to life like this is a great way to help their reading come along,” Monts says. “Maybe they’ll move on to the next reading adventure seeing that it really does impact their lives.”
The Clowes Education Matinee series started in 1991, when Tom McTamney was Executive Director of Clowes Hall. McTamney, who was one of three former Clowes directors on hand when the millionth visitors walked through the door (Elise Kushigian and Ty Sutton were the others), remembers receiving from the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, DC, an invitation to create a matinee program for schoolchildren modeled after the successful program at the Kennedy Center.
“We were looking for something to set us apart in the region,” McTamney says. “We didn’t have any kind of an education program here, and we sat on a college campus. It made no sense to me.”
He teamed up with Indianapolis Public Schools, they wrote a grant, and Clowes was selected as one of the original 12 arts centers to participate in the program.
Seeing the millionth student walk through the door was incredibly gratifying, McTamney says.
Donna Rund, who has been Clowes Hall’s Education Manager for nearly 20 years, is equally delighted with the success of the long-running program.
“Little did I know 20 years ago when I left teaching to become a program director that we would get to this amazing pinnacle,” she says. “And we get to keep going. We get to keep doing this. I’ve already planned next year’s season. We going to have a few more shows than we had this season, and I’m glad to have the support of Aaron Hurt, our executive director. He feels so strongly about giving students opportunities to see live theater—especially those who have not had this experience before.”