Many say theater has a way of reaching kids and changing their lives. This is true for Tabitha Hewitt-Rafferty, a freshman at Mississippi State University and former foster child who found solace in the performing arts.
“I was adopted at the age of 17, and I was really blessed by God at that time to be delivered out of some of the really difficult circumstances I was in,” she said. “I found a home, a family that loved me and I was able to get involved at my high school. My at-the-time foster family encouraged me to get involved with at least one thing. … I chose theater. At this point, five years ago, I had never done a theater production. Now, this is my intended career because I was a foster kid who had the chance of being exposed to theater.”
This year, she is involved with the Theatre MSU Theatre for Young Audiences program. It was her experiences that inspired the group to expand the program to offer a free show for foster children and their families and social workers.
“I think it really meets our mission of making theater available to everyone and (showing) that theater is for everyone,” said Tonya Hays, assistant professor of theater performance and director of the show. “Having a performance like this for families that may need a little support, I think is a gift that we can easily give and share the show with them.”
The Theatre for Young Audiences program is an annual production put on for elementary school students in an effort to expose them to theater. Hays, who started teaching at MSU three years ago, has been involved with the program for nearly 30 years.
“That has become truly one of my passions, Theatre for Young Audiences,” she said. “Studies show that if a child is introduced to theater by the age of eight, they will be engaged and involved in theater, even if it’s just as an audience member. I believe that theater can transform and transcend in many ways, but with children it’s just such an incredible tool. It’s so magical and a way for them to see the world in a different way and experience things that they might not ever have experienced.”
This year’s program will feature a performance of “The Light Princess” by Emily C. A. Snyder.
It follows a princess who was cursed with no gravity, both literally and metaphorically. She floats about, but she also has no gravity of emotion. Throughout the play, however, she learns to feel.
While Hays has been involved with the program for decades, Liz Podraza, who plays the titular princess, has not.
“It’s very sweet doing a kids show, it’s not something that I’ve ever done before,” she said. “It is a lot of fun to know that what I am doing is going to be showing kids theater for often the first time in their lives, and this could be the only time that they get to see theater. So, it’s very special to be a part of that.”
There are about 25 students making up the cast and crew for the production, many of whom are new to theater.
“The children’s show usually has a lot of new people engaged because they don’t seem to be quite as nervous about auditioning for a children’s show,” said Hays. “I have a lot of new students who this is their first Theatre MSU experience. They’ve all been fabulous to work with. They’ve all been super dedicated, working very hard and diligently on this project. They are not taking it lightly, they want it to be the very best it can be.”
There will be performances for school groups held on Wednesday through Friday at 9:30 a.m., with 12:30 p.m. shows on Thursday and Friday as well. According to Hays, there is expected to be around a total of 1,800 attendees to these shows. Any schools interested in attending can contact Jade Keaton at email@example.com.
The special show for foster kids will be on Wednesday at 5:30 p.m.
There will also be a community performance on Oct. 2 at 2:30 p.m. Tickets are $5 and can be purchased online through the school’s ticket page.
All shows will be held in McComas Hall.
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