Mill Mountain Theatre produces two shows this summer, both designed to attract large audiences of children and encourage them to read. Performances of Willy Wonka Jr. on the theatre’s mainstage and The Jungle Book at outreach venues around the region are parts of a project to promote reading through engaging performance.
“We are learning the power of professional theatre to help meet the community’s need to advance reading skills of young children,” said Jay Briggs, MMT’s Director of Education and Community Engagement. “Every show we have selected this season in our Young Audiences Series is based on a story or book that is tempting for kids to read after they see the shows. We also have developed strong partnerships with schools, libraries and other organizations that are focused on this goal of student reading,” Briggs said.
Summer is an especially important time for children to maintain and build on what they learn during the school year and to go back to school with even greater appetite to read and learn. MMT is a partner in the project for Roanoke students to achieve grade-level reading skills by the third grade and to promote English-language literacy for immigrants. MMT’s summer shows for families are:
• The Jungle Book, a 30-minute adaptation of classic stories by Rudyard Kipling. These fables are set in a jungle in India and feature animals that take on human characteristics so they can teach children lessons of morality and ethics. MMT will perform a version of the story at parks, libraries and other neighborhood venues in Roanoke, Roanoke County, Salem and Vinton and at special shows for students enrolled in the Roanoke City Public Schools summer enrichment program. The cast is composed of college-level drama students, who are hired as summer apprentices especially for this project. All of the performances are free and open to everyone. A full and updated schedule of shows is posted at www.millmountain.org. Navigate to SHOWS/Young Audiences/The Jungle Book and click on the link to the performance calendar.
• Willy Wonka Jr. is a large-cast musical version of the story about children who visit a candy factory, and learn valuable lessons about imagination and integrity along the way. The production features youth actors and designers, many of whom are enrolled in MMT Conservatory classes in theatre skills and technology. The show runs July 28 to Aug. 6 on the Trinkle Main Stage. Tickets, which are discounted to about half MMT’s usual prices, are available on line at www.millmountain.org or through the Center in the Square box office, 540-342-5740.
At all of these summer shows students who attend will be offered free books about stories and topics related to the performances. These books are provided through grants and gifts from donors who are our partners in the reading project: City of Roanoke Arts Commission, City of Salem, County of Roanoke, Sam and Marion Golden Helping Hand Foundation, Kiwanis Club of Roanoke and the Kathryn B. McQuade Foundation. Others partners include Star City Reads, Turn the Page Foundation, Roanoke City Public Schools and Roanoke Valley area public libraries.
The Young Audiences Series also include two productions that spotlighted MMT Conservatory students on the Waldron Stage: The Velveteen Rabbit in March and The Legend of Sleepy Hollow, coming up in October, and Write Stuff!, the inaugural festival of new plays written by local student playwrights.
The reading and literacy program was developed in 2015 when Roanoke Public City Schools administrators asked MMT to develop a multi-year project to supplement schools’ efforts to raise student reading score and help efforts for accreditation of all Roanoke primary and elementary schools. In partnership with Blue Ridge Literacy and Roanoke Refugee Resettlement Service, we also help their clients learn to use English as a primary language.
When children receive free books at Mill Mountain Theatre shows, staffers ask for email addresses so they can send their families links to questionnaires. In the 2016 season MMT distributed 1,439 books; 82 percent of the children who received these books reported reading them and 42 percent said they borrowed more books from area libraries.
For more information, contact MMT Education and Community Engagement Director Jay Briggs at (540) 342-5764 or via e-mail at email@example.com