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Like a good Neighbor: Pollyanna Theatre Company and The Long Center announce new strategic partnership

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Aaron Alexander stars in Playground Superhero. Courtesy of Pollyanna Theatre Company
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Gricelda Silva and Aaron Alexander in Playground Superhero. Courtesy of Pollyanna Theatre Company
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Austin photo: Contributor_Michael Graupmann

Just in time for the fast-approaching five year anniversary, The Long Center for the Performing Arts announces a brand new formal partnership with one of Austin's most prominent children's theatre organizations, Pollyanna Theatre Company.

Dubbed The Good Neighbor Arts Education Project, Pollyanna will become the official youth arts education arm of the Long Center, conducting long-range educational programming at The Long Center and, eventually, in seven elementary schools that lie within a 3-mile radius of the performance hall.

Pollyanna began by visiting classrooms this month at Baty, Dawson and Becker Elementary Schools to introduce some of the concepts that appear in their latest professional production for younger audiences, Playground Superhero, showing at the Long Center's Rollins Theatre. After the performance, Pollyanna's teaching artists will return to the schools for post-show discussions as well.

The goal is not only to introduce the performing arts into elementary curriculum but to also introduce the students at these schools to the world of theatre. According to Pollyanna founder and artistic director Judy Matetzschk-Campbell, the majority of the students at these schools struggle with having basic needs met, so attending the theatre is far down on their list of priorities.

With a PhD in children's theatre, Matetzschk-Campell knows full well how exposure to the arts can provide students with opportunities for expression, enchantment and even escape, and it's her goal to provide them with "ongoing, repeated visits to the Long Center where [they] will consistently explore and make discoveries through theatre."

Within this initiative, Pollyanna's entire season will consist of new works written specifically for these audiences and applying them to the work they're covering in school. In May, for example, the new play Plus Meets Minus will help very early learners with their math skills. Imagine how much better you would have learned algebra if you saw the functions performed for you live on stage.

Matetzschk-Campbell will also be training Pollyanna's company of actors to become engaged teaching artists who visit the schools before and after each show. "This way, the students will get to see the teachers they've known in their six-week classes up on stage," she explains, and actors will be able to see the direct impact of their work on their audiences.

The Good Neighbor Education Arts Project will begin with three schools this fall and add four more by the end of the school year. So far, reception at the schools has been overwhelmingly positive.

"In order for something like this to work, you have to know the right people to partner with... and be willing to wait for some people," says Matetzschk-Campbell. "I'm so thrilled that we're working with the schools that we have here. It's so great to have so many people who share your goals."

The Long Center and Pollyanna's strategic alliance comes at a fortuitous time for collaborative arts educators in Austin. This Wednesday, the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts and mindPOP will announce a major launch in our city called "Any Given Child" for expanding and funding collaborative projects just like this one in the years to come.


See the full 2012-2013 Pollyanna Theatre Company performance calendar. All shows are open to the public, and all ages will appreciate them.

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