This spring, the Butler Arts Center—Clowes Memorial Hall, the Schrott Center for the Arts, the Eidson-Duckwall Recital Hall, and Lilly Hall Studio Theatre—welcomed the millionth visitor to its series devoted to school children.
Over 27 years and 858 performances, the Clowes Education Matinee Series has provided students in kindergarten through 12th grade with the opportunity to see live theater—many for the first time. That could mean anything from daytime performances by Butler groups such as 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.
Clowes Hall Education Manager Donna Rund has been part of the matinee series for nearly 20 years and has seen more than 800,000 of the 1 million visitors come through the doors. She was thrilled when she realized the millionth visitor was going to happen in this school year’s season.
“As a former teacher, I knew opportunities to learn outside the classroom were educational and memorable for my students, and to know that other teachers feel that way as well is why the matinee series has sustained its significance in the community,” she says. “The kids in Central Indiana can come to Clowes Hall to experience live theatre, and it can be life-giving and lifechanging. The arts have the power to do that.”
Rund has witnessed exponential growth in education programming, which began in earnest in 1991 when the Kennedy Center in Washington, DC, selected six sites across the nation to begin an arts education program called Partners in Education.
That program connects arts organizations, school districts, and the Kennedy Center. The Kennedy Center provides resources such as professional-development workshops, demonstration teaching and coaching sessions, and study group opportunities that enable arts organizations and school districts to work together to strengthen the curriculum and, ultimately, the students’ engagement level when learning.
“Teaching doesn’t just happen in the classroom; it happens outside the classroom too,” Rund says. “We can shape and mold and help build new perspectives through the performance arts of theater, music, and dance to help people see in new ways and discover new things.”
In 2018, Claire Zingraf brought her kindergarteners and first-graders from the James Russell Lowell School 51 in Indianapolis to Clowes Hall to see a show based on the Skippyjon Jones books about a cat who thinks he’s a Chihuahua. The students loved the stories, and Zingraf thought they would enjoy a live presentation.
She was right.
“Sitting in the audience with my kids, every time I looked at them, they just had giant smiles on their faces, especially during the songs and dances,” she says. Watching them smile through the entire performance was a really great moment as a teacher.”
“The students thought the show was fun and funny, and it definitely got them interested in reading more,” Zingraf says. She recommends the experience to other teachers—especially teachers who work in lower-income schools.
“Our students don’t have these opportunities other than going on field trips,” she says, “and I think this is something my kids are going to remember for the rest of their lives—being able to go with their whole class to a big auditorium to see actors and actresses onstage acting out one of their favorite stories.”