Celebrating 25 Years with Plano Children’s Theatre

There’s No Place Like Home

For Sara Egelston Akers, founder of Plano Children’s Theatre, the upcoming 25th anniversary performance of “The Wizard of Oz” is a lot like closing her eyes, clicking her heels three times and saying that most famous of lines, “There’s no place like home.” After all, “The Wizard of Oz” was the original play performed by the earliest rendition of the Plano Children’s Theatre 25 years ago.

Sara fulfilled a lifelong dream of “teaching students the magic and educational aspects of theatre” when she first directed “The Wizard of Oz” at Grace Presbyterian Church in 1991. The production was a huge success for the audience. Sara soon found all of the kids and adults involved asking, “What’s next?”

PCT’s original 1991 production of “The Wizard of Oz” (top) and a 2007 production // photos courtesy Plano Children’s Theatre

After some deliberation, three founding Board members–Rebecca Egelston Caso, Dick Anthony, and Lanny Wren–joined to start Plano Children’s Theatre (PCT) with Sara as the executive director. They began the endeavor with a $1,500 donation from Sara and Rebecca’s parents, Dr. and Mrs. James R. Egelston. Classes in the generously donated original buildings at Grace Presbyterian were scheduled for the fall of 1991.

Unfortunately, Sara and Rebecca’s mother, Carole Egelston, soon received a terminal diagnosis of cancer and passed away in October of 1991. In her last conversation with Sara, she encouraged her daughter to “start that little children’s theatre.”

Classes started in the spring of 1992 with 50 students. By the following fall, 225 students had enrolled, and the “little children’s theatre” has never stopped growing. In 2005, McKinney Youth Theatre began programming in Heard Craig Hall. In 2012, Frisco followed suit and the Frisco Youth Theatre opened, also with a first production of “The Wizard of Oz.”

In 2014, the North Texas Performing Arts (NTPA) organization was formed to unify the separate theatres. In August, the production of “25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee” launched the adults-only NTPA Repertory Theatre. This December and January, Fairview and Dallas will both host new NTPA theatres at the Fairview Youth Theatre and Dallas Contemporary Theatre, respectively.

NTPA offers productions for both child actors (above) and adult actors (below, with its NTPA Repertory Theatre)
Cast of NTPA Repertory Theatre’s “25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee”

Since 1991, almost 1,000,000 patrons have walked through the NTPA doors for a performance, class or rehearsal. With the support of the City of Plano and Plano Cultural Arts Commission, NTPA was able to offer $108,000 in scholarships in 2015 and donated over 3,000 tickets to nonprofits and schools.

To her credit, Sara isn’t one to take all of the praise. “Since 2010, NTPA’s double-digit growth each year has been due in large part to the contributions of its governing Board of Directors, led by President Darrell Rodenbaugh, and its theatre management boards and volunteers that donate thousands of hours to this organization. I will forever be in their debt,” she said.

Sara recognizes the amazing success of the program, saying, “Twenty five years ago, my mother encouraged me to found PCT. She and I could never have realized the many blessings this theatre would bring to my life in the form of bright children’s faces, volunteers, friends and the magic onstage and off of NTPA/PCT.”

Sara Egelston Akers (center) receiving the Plano Chamber of Commerce ATHENA leadership award this October // photo courtesy of Photography by Misty

Part of that magic will be needed for a smooth move when Plano Children’s Theatre relocates to the Willow Bend Center for the Arts as part of Starwood Retail Group’s $100 million investment in Plano’s community. The first sponsor for the new facility is Neiman Marcus. Some $400,000 more dollars will need to be raised to complete renovations. Hopefully this month’s 25th anniversary will remind patrons of the awesome lineage of the Plano Children’s Theatre.

On November 19, NTPA invites the public to a “Silver Slipper Reception” at 6 p.m. at the Courtyard Theatre, where the Governing Board will host a champagne toast and unveil a portrait of Sara Egelston Akers that will adorn all of its theatre locations. Guests will then attend a very special production of “The Wizard of Oz” featuring a rare performance by Sara in the role of Auntie Em alongside Plano Children’s Theatre Managing Director, Mike Mazur, in the role of Uncle Henry.

Actresses Alina Melcer and Cassidy Payne will take turns in the role of Dorothy Gale in PCT’s 25th anniversary production of “The Wizard of Oz” // photos courtesy Plano Children’s Theatre

North Texas Performing Arts and Plano Children’s Theatre certainly have a lot to celebrate. The real beauty of the upcoming 25th anniversary performance of “The Wizard of Oz” is that Dorothy Gale’s story so closely mirrors that of the children who participate in the Plano Children’s Theatre. Like Dorothy, they are transplanted from an everyday world to magical stories full of adventure. And just like Dorothy and her friends, the Scarecrow, the Tin-Man and the Cowardly Lion, these young actors find that the gifts they have been searching for have been there all along, waiting to be acknowledged, encouraged, and applauded, if possible with a standing ovation.

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