November 7, 2018

JCCT kids

Trish Burchette, who portrays Grace Bradley, practices alongside her young cast-mates in the Christmas classic The Best Christmas Pageant Ever. For most of the youth, this will be their first time in the spotlight. Director Marie Jo Thum along with help from the Johnson County  Community Theater has helped the young cast develop a love for theater and performance over the past few months. Photo by Marlana Ward.

By Marlana Ward
Freelance Writer

The youth of Johnson County are getting their turn in the spotlight as the Johnson County Community Theater in cooperation with the newly revived Johnson County Young Artists present “The Best Christmas Pageant Ever” on December 6, 7, and 8. Talented young actors from bring the beloved story of Christmas pageants and the production efforts that go on behind the scenes to life across the county. Leading this year’s production is Marie Jo Thum, current President/Director of the Johnson County Young Artists.

“Marie Jo is an amazing lady,” expressed Johnson County Community Theater’s Kathy Terrill. “She has come along and done so much with the Children’s Choir and kids in the community. I told her that we were doing ‘The Best Christmas Pageant Ever’ and asked her to help.”

These first footsteps into working with the community theater group opened the door for Thum to not only help with this production but also assume the role of Director with the Johnson County Young Artists. Terrill explained how Thum’s involvement with the youth will bring about the opportunity for the Johnson County Young Artists to once again function apart from the community theater group: “While we are helping with this production, we hope to build the Young Artists program so that the groups can operate as two, separate entities.”

Thum is no stranger to youth productions in Johnson County.

“I started the Johnson County Community Children’s Chorus in December 2017,” Thum shared. “After their debut at the Heritage Hall Christmas Sing-A-Long, I was approached by members of the Heritage Hall Board asking if I would be the director. It seemed like a good fit because I love the arts and working with kids is life-giving for me.”

With today’s technology-driven society, Thum sees theatre as a way to teach children skills that can be overlooked as busy lifestyles and constant distractions are ever present.

“Theatre is powerful at any age,” she shared. “There is a myriad of cognitive skills that are the foundation to the theatre. A commodity in our time is the ability to focus. We interact and communicate with each other in real time, not on a device. Sequencing, main idea, character, setting, plot analysis of set up, upset, reset in any good story, conflict resolution, genre, and lest we forget, memorizing.”

It is not only intellectual benefits that Thum sees develop in the young people.

“What I really love about the theater and kids is what it does not only for the brain but the heart,” she stated. “Many times an actor can relate to a character and see some part of themselves in that character, but what is exciting to see in anyone is to see that unveiling and embracing of another life and their perspective, and that requires empathy. Everybody has a back story, and when we can dig deep enough to find that, it is good for the planet as a whole.”

Additionally, Thum understands how families can help kids who are interested in acting or production to fulfilling their curiosities.

“Children are like potter’s clay,” Thum expressed. “The activities that a family chooses are that to which young minds and hearts become disposed. Then again, some children are simply wired for the theatre. I encourage families to go to live theater like Barter Theater, Heritage Hall, and neighboring city troupes and school productions. Also, read plays, watch public television, check out live productions on YouTube, attend workshops, or write your own play. Come, be a part of our very own Johnson County Young Artists. Soak it up, and you’ll be hooked!”

“The Best Christmas Pageant Ever” will be featuring 24 talented, local youth as they take the stage to share the story of family, understanding others, and the behind the scenes antics of a church Christmas pageant. Terrill shared her feelings upon seeing Thum’s involvement with the youth and the response she can elicit from the young actors.

“I call her my Pied Piper,” said Terrill. “All but one of the kids had no theatrical experience. She has worked from ground zero with the kids and molding them to be ready. The kids have amazed me.”

A portion of the proceeds from ‘The Best Christmas Pageant Ever’ will go to benefit the First Christian Church Benevolence Fund.

“This production is being co-sponsored by First Christian Church,” Terrill explained. “They are using it as an outreach program and are covering half the costs for the production. Half of the proceeds from the show will go back into the community theater, and the other half will go into the church’s benevolence fund.”

Thum encourages all to come out and see the result of the youth’s hard work and dedication, “Come, be entertained and inspired with true holiday spirit.”

Performances will be at 7 pm on December 6 & 7 and then at 3 pm on December 8 at First Christian Church.