The world of theater is a whirlwind of collaborations, construction, memorization, designing and directing. This is no exception at All-of-us Express Children’s Theater (AECT). AECT produces four productions each year and is run through the City of East Lansing’s Parks and Recreation Department. After merging with the Parks and Recreation Department in 2009, AECT has become even more rooted in the East Lansing community. This is especially thanks to Sarah Willis and Board Director Liz Parker.
Willis and Parker are both alums of the program and have been involved for 17 and 20 years, respectively. They have dedicated their lives to this program in order to provide a creative outlet for children and teens within the community. Thanks to their expertise, AECT is able to provide many opportunities for participation — including costume design, set design, props, ushering, management, directing and script writing — for children and teens throughout East Lansing.
AECT was founded in 1989 by Evelyn Weymouth, who put on AECT’s first production ever, Winnie the Pooh, at Hannah Middle School. Over the years, this group has grown and built a community for children of all ages to find solace in theater. Weymouth was passionate about working with children and dedicated countless hours to building up AECT. As a 501(c)(3) nonprofit, the program runs primarily on grants, fundraisers and profits from previous shows. It’s not glamorous or profitable work, but it is rewarding for AECT’s staff to see a performance come together.
AECT does an excellent job of providing their participants with opportunities for professional growth at an early age. They also encourage families to involve all of their children in the program. They provide memberships to families and also offer a lifetime membership option for families who are passionate about the program. AECT is in it for the long haul and wants to continue building a strong arts and humanities community in East Lansing.
The establishment of community within theater helps AECT to retain participants, which range from about 40 to 60 children per show. Along with their regular season line up, they also have a summer program, which can host more than 200 participants. AECT continues to gain traction because they want the children who participate to come back and try something new. With that idea in mind, they created the Guild Program, which allows children and teens to slowly move into leadership positions within the program.
Willis explained that there are three levels.
“Being an Apprentice is when you first enter, and then you can move onto Journeyman and Master,” she said. “Once you’re a Master, you can be in charge as a crew head and must be able to fulfill all of the responsibilities of being a crew head.”
The Guild Program incorporates all branches of the theater including props, set construction, lights, sound, costumes and makeup. Children can become Masters in these programs as early as age 11. At a more sophisticated level, participants can explore the management, directing and script guilds, but cannot become Masters in those areas until at least age 14. These opportunities allow kids to be excited about learning and implementing their skills within the theater.
Their upcoming season reflects this excitement and dedication to their art. This year, AECT is producing five shows within the next nine months. Shows include Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, The Great Gatsby, Thumbelina and Peter Pan, and will provide a plethora of opportunities for children and teens in the community. They will also host a Young Playwright’s Festival in early 2016, which will allow kids to tap into even more creative outlets.
Auditions for AECT’s 27th season will be held on Aug. 27 and 28 from 6:30-8:30 p.m. and on Aug. 29 from 10 a.m. to noon. If you are interested and looking for further details please visit allofusexpress.org, or check them out on Facebook or Twitter at “allofusexpress.”
Lauren Gaynor is an English and professional writing major from Chicago, Ill. When she isn’t reading for class, drinking coffee or performing with the theater group Roial Players, she can be found at Twenty One Pilots concerts or exploring the hidden gems that the city of Chicago has to offer.