All-of-Us Express Children’s Theatre (AECT) will bring the holiday classic “A Christmas Carol” to the stage this weekend. Currently, AECT is in the rehearsal process for the play, as well as two other shows waiting to premiere in the spring. This year’s AECT productions feature kids from ages 6-18 from both public and private schools in the Greater Lansing area.
AECT has had a clear mission since its founding by Evelyn Weymouth in 1989. Although Weymouth is retired from her position with AECT, current county parks program coordinator Kathleen Miller knew Weymouth personally and said she was an especially unique woman.
“[Evelyn Weymouth] was the perfect role model for kids, because she really believed in what she did,” Miller said.
All-of-Us Express Children’s Theatre was once an independent nonprofit organization. In 2008, when the program began facing financial hardships, the city of East Lansing merged its theater program with AECT. Now, with help from the city, Miller said the program has “grown by leaps and bounds.”
AECT’s artistic director Nina Crumpton highlighted the scholarship program, which helps children of all backgrounds participate.
“Kids can participate regardless of whether or not they can afford it,” Crumpton said.
Crumpton became involved with AECT seven years ago as a parent volunteer and took on the role of artistic director 9 months ago. Her favorite aspect of AECT is the children’s participation in every aspect of show business.
All-of-Us Express Children’s Theatre provides lessons beyond stage performances since there are opportunities for involvement with costumes, props, sets, makeup, lighting and sound.
“We think theater is a valuable life experience, both in that it gives the kids an avenue to express themselves, but also they’re learning life skills that we think are valuable in other arenas,” Crumpton said.
Crumpton gave advice that discipline, working in a group and with deadlines, and creative problem-solving are among the most important. Watching the kids’ development is also enjoyable for her because, over time, she said, they grow into truly talented young adults.
Miller agreed that the growth process is important to AECT. She said theater programs usually attract a lot of shy children, but they more often than not emerge with a newfound sense of confidence.
“A lot of kids that struggle fitting in other places seem to fit in here,” Miller said.
Above all else, Crumpton said she wants the children to feel a sense of ownership in the final production.
“I want them to be able to see what’s happening on stage and think ‘I did that,’” Crumpton said.
Performances of “A Christmas Carol” are Dec. 15-16 at the Albert A. White Performing Arts Theater inside the Hannah Community Center. Tickets can be purchased on the AECT website.