The South Jackson Civic Center (SJCC) is celebrating 40 years of performing arts and theater in 2019. What better way to kick off an anniversary than to give back to the youth of the community? South Jackson was recently awarded a grant that would help fund after school drama workshops to Tullahoma elementary schools.

With the grant, SJCC will offer drama workshops at all four of the city’s elementary schools as an after-school activity for children who have interests in theater. Because drama is not offered at the elementary level, SJCC is aiming to foster a love for performing arts by providing the workshops to students for free of charge.

However, providing these classes can become expensive. This year, SJCC received a $3,500 grant from Middle Tennessee Community Foundation Grant to help fund the program.

While South Jackson has offered other programs aimed at children in the past, this is the first time the workshops will be available as an after-school activity. Sometimes funds are tight as royalties – licensing, contracts, scripts etc. – become rather expensive when planning productions for the year.

According to its website, the Middle Tennessee Community Foundation has been serving communities and nonprofits for more than 25 years. The organization provide funds to support nonprofits with the work they are doing within their communities. This is the first year SJCC has received a grant.

“I know $3,500 doesn’t seem like a lot,” said South Jackson’s Operations Board President Coleen Saunders. “However, it’s keeping a program in place for kids to find a place to fit in. Most of the funds go to purchasing royalties of the play. What’s left over helps to pay the instructors, set props, costumes and it provides snacks for the kids during practice.”

All four elementary schools in Tullahoma are participating in this year’s after school performing arts workshop. The workshops will be taught by Michael McGee, who is employed at Robert E. Lee, and Melissa Shuran, who is a board member at South Jackson.

Instructors will work with the children throughout the course of 10 to 12 weeks during the spring, and then the students will have an opportunity to showcase their talents during a performance of “Schoolhouse Rock Jr.” at the end of the semester for their classmates, before the groups come together for a bigger production on the SJCC stage.

Children participating in the workshops learn skills such as script reading, music and acting. The group gets together one day a week after school.

“The drama workshops provide a place for the kids to express themselves,” Saunders said. “Many of the schools provide activities with music, art and sports, but performing arts aren’t offered in elementary school. These workshops give the kids who don’t have a passion for the other things a place to fit in and have fun.”

The workshops also introduce children to the broader PACT program offered by South Jackson.  PACT, or Performing Arts for Children and Teens, has been delivering performing arts classes for youngsters for approximately 15 years. PACT provides summer camps and various workshops to inspire the younger generation to be involved with theatre production.

“Our PACT program serves as a great way to help mentor kids,” added Saunders. “Mentoring kids has made a huge impact on them as well as in the theatre. Through our program, we’re able to allow kids to be a part of adult production, and they also learn more about how to run a production. Many of them learn how to run the lights, direct and help backstage. We’ve even had two previous PACT kid’s direct PACT plays. We try to do as much for the kids as we can.”

Saunders said the idea for the PACT program came from two young girls who were interested in drama and wanted to put on a play.

“There were two young girls that were interested in drama, and they came to South Jackson to see if we could help put the play on,” remembered Saunders. “At the time, there was nothing in town for kids who were interested in theater. We decided to put on the play, and it was a big success. We also decided that there was a need in the community, and putting a program in place was the next step.”

The PACT program is all inclusive, and anyone is able to participate.

“One time a student told me that he never felt like he belonged in Tullahoma before he did a show with us,” Saunders recalled. “That’s when I knew that this program was a part of something bigger, and it was a place where everyone has a place.”

 

Upcoming events at SJCC

Even though the year has just started, SJCC plans to bring big things to the community in 2019 to celebrate its 40th anniversary. Working with schools to provide workshops, continuing to put together theater productions and mentoring the youth of Tullahoma are just a few of the ways the Civic Center continues to give back.

The center will host a benefit concert featuring classic country music on Feb. 23. The concert is put on by Troy Drum, of Lynchburg, and his fellow musicians JD Honea and Marty Scott.

The concert is in memory of Durm’s wife, Andrea, who passed away in 2016 after a hard-fought battle with breast cancer. Money raised from the show will go directly to breast cancer research. This is the third annual benefit concert Durm has put on.

“The hardest 18 months and nine days of my life was when I was scared that I was going to come home from work and my wife wasn’t going to be with me anymore,” Durm said. “We want to raise money for breast cancer research because there’s not one person whose life hasn’t been touched by breast cancer. We want to help find a cure so that no one has to go through what we did.”

The first benefit concert was held on Oct. 1, 2016. Andrea passed away only 12 days later. The concert is called “Pink is the Color of Hope,” and it has a heart wrenching story behind it.

“I wrote a song for my wife called ‘Pink is the Color of Hope,’” reflected Durm. “At our first concert, we sang it to Andrea. She had no idea I had written it. She was so surprised. I lost her 12 days later. I will be opening the show with that song to honor her.”

The concert will feature classic country songs from a live band. Audiences can expect to hear songs made famous by stars like Merle Haggard, Willie Nelson and Hank Williams. There will also be a silent auction that will end during intermission. Some items will include bottles of Jack Daniels autographed by the company’s master distiller.

“Andrea loved classic country,” Durm added. “The night will be filled with all the classic favorites covered by a live band. Everything we earn will go right back into breast cancer research. We want to do our part to help find a cure.”

The warmup will begin at 6:30 p.m., and the show will begin at 7 p.m. on Saturday, Feb. 23. Tickets are $20 and can be purchased in advance or at the door. While $10 of ticket price covers cost for South Jackson, the remaining $10 and all of the money raised from the silent auction will go directly to research for breast cancer.

To purchase tickets in advance, or for more information, visit www.southjackson.org.

For more information on the Middle Tennessee Community Foundation, visit www.cfmt.org.

Faith Few can be reached by email at ffew@tullahomanews.com.