For kids only

Theatre ETC provides a place for children to try their hands at the arts

AND … ACTION!<br>Sarah Foster directs some of the young stars for Theatre ETC’S upcoming production of “101 Dalmatians.”

Sarah Foster directs some of the young stars for Theatre ETC’S upcoming production of “101 Dalmatians.”

Photo By Marisol Salgado

The words “educate,” “imagine,” “dream” and “magic” are stenciled over the entrance walls of Theatre ETC, a new facility that, its directors hope, will provide motivation for the children who will practice and perform there.

From the fully functional kitchen to the prop room, choral room and dance room, the smell of fresh paint is still noticeable in the 6,000-square-foot building, which is decorated colorfully, like a box of crayons.

Jeffrey Childs, one of the directors, recalled what the building used to look like, saying simply, “It was not this.”

Shannon Beattie, who spearheaded the project with the help of Childs and Jeff Duncan, has opened the only theater in Chico exclusively for children. Theatre ETC (Enriching the Children) is a “college for kids” where children can build props, perfect writing techniques, take singing lessons and dance like a tree during one of the theater’s yoga sessions.

“Theater has always been a part of my life,” Beattie said at the June 10 grand opening. “And now we have combined all of the elements of art and put them into this theater.”

And it came together almost overnight.

Although Beattie, Childs and Duncan had 10 months to generate designs for the theater and plan classes, escrow closed only nine days before the grand opening. But with the help of family and friends, the trio transformed what used to be a preschool, and before that a church, into a brightly colored theater ready for performances—all in just over a week.

It appeared to be a success. At the theater’s grand opening, children wandered from room to room, hands, shirts and faces covered in chocolate. Chocolate fondue, snacks and refreshments proved to be the perfect indulgence for children and their parents during a day filled with welcoming smiles and many congratulations.

“We had individual dreams that together became reality,” said Beattie, standing on the stage with Childs and Duncan.

The seven-person staff at Theatre ETC consists of directors, artists and teachers who hold degrees in a variety of fields such as theater, music, physical education and art.

Beattie and Childs have years of experience with local theater, having directed and performed at Theatre on the Ridge and Chico City Light Opera. In addition to working with other children’s-theater projects, Duncan spent six years developing new works for children to perform at The Broadway Junior Collection at Music Theatre International in New York.

“It’s not just about shows or productions, although we will do those; it’s really about developing theater skills,” Childs said.

Programs are tailored to meet the individual needs and interests of children. With input from the theater instructors, classes and productions for this summer were selectively chosen by the owners.

“It’s like designing your own major for college,” Duncan said.

Several theaters already offer programs for children. The Blue Room Young Company offers year-round productions, classes and workshops, while the Chico Children’s Theatre Company has seasonal sessions.

But Duncan is quick to point out that Theatre ETC is focused on children only, whereas other local theaters have created children’s theater as a branch off of their regular programs. Skills taught at Theatre ETC, such as yoga and dance, have an emphasis in theater that also sets the group apart from the rest.

With performances filling up each weekend until the end of July, the theater is already making plans for the fall program offerings. The programs offered at Theatre ETC are offered for children and teenagers ages 3 to 18.

“Our biggest intent is to enrich the lives of children,” Beattie said to a room full of parents and friends. “And now we can.”