El Dorado Springs Children's Theatre Connects a Rural Community with Fine Arts

Aug 9, 2012

Almost two hours northwest of Springfield sits the historic rural town of El Dorado Springs, with a population of just over 3,500 people.  A stone’s throw down Main Street, right off Highway 54, is First Baptist Church, which is home to the Lighthouse Children’s Theatre. This theatre program, started by local resident Lynne Hedrick, provides kids, ages three to seventeen, the opportunity to experience the fine arts through drama and music productions. And, according to Hedrick, the program has bonded the community together. KSMU’s Rebekah Clark has more.

 

The inspiration for the program came to Hedrick in a moment she says that could have come straight out of a movie.

“In 2002, I had an accident and it left me with a condition that rendered me not able to be in the classroom anymore. And so I retired my teaching career in 2003, and wasn’t really sure what I was supposed to be doing with my life at that point. I’m a mother of three, but I felt like there was something I was supposed to be doing, but I really didn’t know what it was.”

Then, she says, a light bulb moment hit her.

“It was as if a movie just flashed on in my mind and I started seeing a stage and on the stage were children singing and dancing and they were in costume. What just transfixed me was the light that was pouring from their faces. Joy and pride in what they were doing. Then in the audience were their family and friends and community members. It was one of those “ah” moments.”

And that, according to her, was the birth of the Lighthouse Theatre. Five years later, Hedrick walks me through the large, open space in the back of the church. This building is centrally located in the city, a factor that’s important to Hedrick. She says the first year they started, she and her son Colten reached out to community members, stressing the importance of having an extracurricular option for kids who didn’t feel like competing in sports.

“In a small town, we have a lot of sports activities: soccer, basketball, football, you know, name a sport. The problem with that is, and I mean, I’m a strong advocate for sports, is that there are lots of children who—that’s not their thing. They will never be able to make a homerun, they’ll never be able to score a touchdown, and every child needs to feel like a star.”

Chelsea Johnston just graduated high school at El Dorado Springs and was the first graduate of the theatre program. She’s been in nearly every production since the program started. Johnston was born with a cleft lip, which she says caused many kids to make fun of her. Through the program, however, she has made lasting friendships.

“The Lighthouse Theatre is not a theatre; it’s more like a family. For me, it’s a confidence booster. Because when I was up there, it’s like I didn’t necessarily be myself. In a way I did, because I had to bring myself into the character, but then again, it was like I could go out there and shine my light and not get made fun of.”

{Nat sound: Chelsea singing “Hero” by Mariah Carey}

Johnston was the first recipient of “The Light Shines On” Lighthouse scholarship.

Other students, like fifteen year old Ben Vickers, chose to participate in the theatre program over playing football, even though he liked to do both. He's also in band and show choir. Here, he and fellow classmate Sophia Marsh act out a little bit of the Vaudeville performance, “How George Met Gracie.”

{Nat sound: Ben and Sophia}

Hedrick says the town itself has stepped up and helped the organization. Hedrick says this arts program has been a “bridge of light” between generations, economic classes and surrounding towns.

“We are an all-volunteer, non-profit organization, and so when we get ready to do a production, we just put out the word. When we’ve got someone to ask us, ‘What can I do? I love what you’re doing, what can I do?’ I say, ‘Well, what do you love to do?’ and they kind of look at me like, ‘Well what do you need?’ and I say, ‘Well what do you love to do?’ So they say, ‘Well, I love music’…‘Can you play the piano? Can you sing? Can you help our kids with some music?’ There’s a place for everyone at the lighthouse.”

Every year since the theatre has opened, the group hosts a gala fundraiser. In events past, special guests included John Goodman, Karolyn Grimes, and local T.V. sports newscaster Ned Reynolds.     

The group would eventually like to move out of the church into their own theatre, but for now, Hedrick says she is grateful to be able to use the space she has.

For more information about the program, you can visit lighthousechildrenstheatre.org.

For KSMU News, I’m Rebekah Clark.

{Nat: Ben and Sophia, “How George Met Gracie”}