This performing arts organization is celebrating its 10th anniversary season of bringing educational and professional theatre to Florida’s Emerald Coast. Winn-Dixie has supported Emerald Coast Theatre Company through its Community Bag Program.
Tell us about Emerald Coast Theatre Company.
Our mission is to enrich and entertain the Emerald Coast community through educational and professional theatre. We were founded in October 2012, so the Emerald Coast Theatre Company is celebrating its 10th anniversary season. It’s exciting to reach this milestone.
When my wife and I returned to the Emerald Coast ten years ago, with Anna having grown up in this area, we saw there were no opportunities for children to get involved in theatre until they were in high school. We realized there was a need for educational theatre, especially as the area continued to grow. Kids thrive and grow in the cultural arts scene.
Seizing the opportunity, we opened Emerald Coast Theatre Company. Soon after, we launched our professional programs to further enhance the education and cultural arts scene on the coast.
We realized there was a need for educational theatre, especially as the area continued to grow. Kids thrive and grow in the cultural arts scene.
What services do you provide to the community?
We fulfill our mission through three main programs. Our educational theatre is where children get involved in productions and classes. It’s students on stage going through the production process, acting, dancing and being creative.
The next program is our Theatre for Young Audiences program, where we have professional actors or our junior company, which is our high school troupe, doing shows specifically designed for children and families. We also have school educational field trips to the theatre with this program.
And then, we have a professional theatre program, which serves adults interested in the theatre. Those three programs are how we serve the community.
What sets you apart from other nonprofits in your community?
The Emerald Coast Theatre Company is the only performing arts organization in our area that serves all ages and levels: babies, elementary age, teens, young adults, adults and seniors in one place. This programming allows students to stay and grow with us from childhood through to our adult programming.
We’ve seen some of our highly skilled high school students starting to emerge and get involved in some of our professional programs. They’ve reached the skill level that can put them in an ensemble. These are exciting things to see and be a part of generating.
For example, a student who started with us when they were in third grade is now in high school and just headed off to the Florida Theatre Conference. We have another student that started with us around that same age; she’s auditioning for colleges now with the opportunity to get scholarships because of being in our programs. It’s exciting to hit all these milestones, especially with our 10th anniversary this year.
Please tell us a story that illustrates your organization’s good work.
Here is the type of story we hear from many parents whose children have gotten involved in the programs. Their kids hit those tough middle school years with social media, peer pressure, and the fact that middle school kids have been so hard on each other since the beginning of time. We all have horror stories from our middle school days.
One teenage boy, who has been with us for a while and has grown quite a bit, just headed to the Florida Theatre Conference with a group of other students. In the past, this young man was no exception to the middle school experience. He was bullied because he approached life differently than the norm. His mother, in tears, has told us many times over the years that Emerald Coast Theatre Company has impacted his life and given him a place to belong. He has developed self-confidence by standing up, learning lines and empathy through seeing the world from a different character’s perspective.
Unless you are doing a one-person monologue in theatre, you work in collaborative groups. This experience creates a pretty incredible community where these kids come and feel like they belong.
This young man has never gone on a trip without his parents. He’s never felt comfortable and secure enough in himself. For this conference, he got in a van with other junior company members and headed off excited for his first trip without his parents. His mom was so proud of his growth. It’s exciting and wonderful that we’ve created an environment where children and parents feel safe. Kids come here and build self-confidence skills to help make their way in the world.
In our area, there are plenty of youth sports programs available. We have so many parents that say their children were in baseball or football or cheer, and it just wasn’t their thing. Then they bring their kids to Emerald Coast Theatre, and it just clicks; it’s where they belong. It’s where they find their community, their tribe.
It’s exciting and wonderful that we’ve created an environment where children and parents feel safe. Kids come here and build self-confidence skills to help make their way in the world.
What is your most outstanding achievement or contribution to the community?
The first official program was launched in January 2013 and involved ten children from an after-school program. Only ten years later, our educational programs have 350 registered participants.
I am most proud of this growth. The theatre was launched because we thought we saw a need in this area. This is a beach town with many tourists; you don’t know if people will be interested in theatre.
I think back to when Emerald Coast Theatre Company was just an idea with ten children participating, and now we’ve grown to 350 kids enrolled. That is the accomplishment we’re most proud of achieving. The overwhelmingly positive response from the community is great to see.
What do you want people to know about the Emerald Coast Theatre Company?
The theatre serves something for all ages, from three to 93. There are shows called Theatre for the Very Young, designed specifically for children six months to three years old. This programming allows very young kids to come and experience the theatre. It’s very interactive and colorful, with lots of good physical acting.
Whether you are a parent of a six-month-old or a 93-year-old person wanting to be engaged, we have something for all ages. We aren’t the typical theatre crowd. The company creates excellent productions for young audiences, older audiences and everything in between.
How will you use the funds raised from the Community Bag Program?
We have connected the Community Bag Program funds to our educational programming. This incredible program helps us support all our theatre education efforts. Our organization is so grateful for all funds that come in, and the Community Bag Program is a wonderful continuing support.
Is there anything you would like to add?
The Emerald Coast Theatre Company is motivated by the growth we’ve seen over the years. As we celebrate our 10th anniversary, it’s become clear that we’re not done dreaming and that there is more our community is challenging us with.
There is more to do, and we’re excited about collaborating with the community and supporting this growth.
Nathanael Fisher is the Producing Artistic Director of Emerald Coast Theatre Company (ECTC). He is also cofounder of ECTC together with his wife, Anna Fisher.