Dallas Children's Theater Blog

Astonishing Kids And Families With The Fun of Broadway-Like Plays and A Lot More!

For Zak Reynolds, believing is more than a season theme…it’s how he faces his challenges.

skippyjon-photoEditor’s Note:  The wonderfully sweet story of Skippyjon Jones has extra special meaning for actor Zak Reynolds who plays the lead role in the play.  At the same time that he dons the persona of this imaginative Siamese kitten that ventures to far off places, his mind must also deal with his day to day. We are so grateful that Zak was willing to share his story of being recently diagnosed with Alopecia Areata and how the arts motivate him. Here, in his own words, is Zak.

I was officially diagnosed around the beginning of August, right after DOGFIGHT at WaterTower Theatre. Throughout the rehearsal process and run of that show, my hair was starting to just fall out as I would bathe. Luckily, I was playing a Marine from the Vietnam era so it wasn’t so hard to hide that I was losing hair, due to my high n’ tight hairstyle. But there were still modifications I had to apply on my scalp with makeup. That was when all of it hit me pretty hard. 

Jason Robert Villarreal and Zak Reynolds (Rapunzel! Rapunzel! A Very Hairy Fairy Tale - 2014)

Jason Robert Villarreal and Zak Reynolds
(Rapunzel! Rapunzel! A Very Hairy Fairy Tale – 2014)

My hair had been slowly coming out months before, but I had thought nothing of it; just thinking that a few strands of hair were coming out. Alas.. 

Immediately, after the diagnosis, I thought about how my theatrical career would be affected. Friends who are directors and work in the industry on a much higher scale than I do, gave me so much hope, telling me that it wouldn’t and shouldn’t affect my career as an actor. Even though they were telling me all of this feel good information, it didn’t stop me from thinking the worst about it. “How am I going to get a job with this?” “Will I have to get new headshots?” “Will I have to focus on the technical side of theater more than being on stage?” etc… 

For example, with SkippyJon Jones, all of the original promo shots that were done months ago had me with a full head of hair. Not to say that they modified anything whatsoever, but I wouldn’t doubt that it was taken into consideration on some scale to make sure the costumes/setting didn’t reveal too much of my “disease”, which I hate calling it a disease.  

I still ask myself these questions today and it is still a painful to think about the answers to those questions. Alongside the career, it effects my daily life as a restaurant server and an independent human. “Am I attractive?” Unfortunately, I still can’t look at pictures of myself with any sort of hairstyle I liked because it legitimately puts me into a terrible state of mind. I don’t think I’ve ever told anyone that yet…

Thanks to Dr. Davis at Davis Dermatology, he has given me a lot of hope that my hair will come back in time, but I will need to be very patient with it. I don’t know how long it will be until my hair grows back but when it does, I’m going to give it a nice shampoo.  


Nick Martin (Composer), Linda Daugherty (Playwright) and Zak Reynolds (Skippyjon Jones)

My friends and family have been the entire base of what kept me on my feet, continuing to audition through this crazy time. The gala that Ashley Gonzales, Amy Stevenson and Gideon’s Feet* had for me to raise money for my medical bills was the most heartwarming, unbelievably touching event. The community raised over $1400 for my bills to be taken care of. I am in love with the people I surround myself with and the people I am soon to meet, truly.

All I can do is take the advice, the meds, and the love that is given to me and use it to my advantage. If you are in the arts and have something that you think may hinder you from continuing your form, keep your head high and surround yourself with anyone and anything that makes you happy. Work as hard as you can for what you want and stay humble while doing it.

 Aspire to be the best at whatever you choose to be. 


*Gideon’s Feet is a 501 (c)3 non-profit corporation that provides support, financial help and service opportunities for artists in need.

Kindhearted Skippyjon reminds us to share

Each year at this time, Dallas Children’s Theater invites audiences to join us in simple acts of kindness.  We realize there are organizations right here that are unnamed (3)in constant need of support because they are taking care of our neighbors, other citizens that don’t have access to what they need. This year as we ask patrons to contribute to our two collections, we’re going to be offering a significant incentive – children’s tickets to THE MUSICAL ADVENTURES OF FLAT STANLEY which will be at DCT this summer.

As you prepare for your visit to DCT for the world premiere musical SKIPPYJON JONES, please bring in an item or two to share.  Canned goods unnamed (2)and other non-perishable food items will be collected for the Vickery Meadow Neighborhood Alliance Food Pantry. Vickery Meadow is an affordable community with heart and soul right here in our neighborhood, creating a safe, healthy environment for families. The food pantry was established to provide supplemental food to the low income, largely refugee and immigrant families living in Vickery Meadow, and they were thrilled that we offered to help.

Of course some of our neighbors have four legs. As Skippyjon shows how boring the world would be without some imaginative cats and dogs, we will also blog header largercollect toys for cats and dogs at the Operation Kindness animal shelter.  Operation Kindness is the original and largest no-kill shelter in North Texas. They care for approximately 300 animals on a day-to-day basis, and some toys would provide much-needed play for these animals looking for a home.

unnamed (1)We want our kids to be generous and aware of the needs of others, and this is a great way to have them participate in charitable giving, and feed off of your enthusiasm for helping your community. My kids love picking out toys for our dog, so our dog has plenty of toys.  I’m looking forward to the opportunity to share this simple act with them.

If you bring something for one group, you’ll receive one free youth ticket good 325x200_skippyjonfor the summer production of THE MUSICAL ADVENTURES OF FLAT STANLEY.  If you bring something for both groups, you will receive two youth tickets to the summer show.  Double your donation, double your fun!  Please note that this is not two items for one organization, but one item for each of the two organizations in order to get two youth tickets.

DCT always hopes our shows, like SKIPPYJON JONES, will convey important life lessons for our audiences, but an actual act of kindness shared by a family will create the greatest impact of all. Thank you for remembering our neighbors.  That’s what makes you a superhero

The Power of Theater

DCT -TUCK audience - 3/29/2011

Students get ready for the matinee performance of DCT’s Tuck Everlasting.

It has been said that theater affects children in multiple ways. It allows children to be creative and indulge in the beauty of arts at a young age. But what if I told you that theater did more than that for your child? In fact, according to Professor Jay Greene from the University of Arkansas Department of Education Reform, theater has the ability to increase tolerance, empathy and other cognitive skills in students.

It’s almost impossible to measure the effects of theater, but Greene and his team might have made a breakthrough. Researchers examined the impact that high-quality theater productions have on students. After reviewing the data from this experiment, researchers determined that students who watch live theater productions have enhanced knowledge of the plots, increased vocabulary, tolerance and a greater ability to read others’ emotions.

I only attended a couple of plays as a child, and this study makes me wonder how much better I would have scored on my reading comprehensive tests in grade school had I experienced live theater more often. Professor Greene led a research team that performed a randomized field study, offering various students from 7th to 12th grade free theater tickets to either Hamlet or A Christmas Carol. Approximately 670 students completed the application process and were organized into 24 groups, based on similarities in grade level, demographics and class subject (English, Drama, etc.). Researchers constructed lotteries to determine which groups would be “treatment” groups (receiving the free tickets) and which group would be a “control” group (not receiving free tickets). Some students in both the treatment and control groups also read or watched movie versions of the plays.

Following up, Greene’s researchers sent out surveys to all of the students who participated in the study. For each play, researchers asked students a few questions about the plot, vocabulary, emotions and other psychographic information. The results were eye-catching.

Results chart

The chart above confirms that students who went to see the live theater shows knew more about the story and vocabulary definitions than those who did not see the performance. Greene’s team worked with a Reading the Mind in the Eyes test (RMET). The RMET is an advanced test regarding theory of the mind. RMET is used to assess individual differences in social and emotional cognition across various groups and cultures. By administering a youth version of this test, researchers concluded that students who saw the live show increased their ability to read others’ emotions by 23 percent of a standard deviation, compared to 21 percent by students of the control group. I was surprised to see that the tolerance level of the treatment group was lower than that of the students who did not see the live theater show. Researchers determined that interest in seeing theater is strongly related to tolerance and may be a reason for the level differences.

I’m incredibly proud to be a part of the theater industry. The staff at Dallas Children’s Theater believes theater is an art form that everyone should explore. With a variety of theater and video classes, DCT encourages students to get hands-on experience and learn valuable skills in theater arts. These skills benefit them well beyond the camp experience.  Because of the in-depth knowledge they receive from DCT teaching artists, these concepts have the opportunity to be imprinted in their formative minds for the long term. DCT’s Associate Artistic Director and Education Director, Nancy Schaeffer, wholeheartedly agrees with the results of this study.“This study confirms what I’ve known for years. This is why I do what I do. Theater is powerful,” Schaeffer said.

DCT Andy Long teaching class at  Bonham Elementary

Schaeffer teaches a theater class at a local elementary school.

Here at DCT, Schaeffer directs the DCT Academy and Teen Conservatory classes as well as the Curtains Up on Reading Residency program. She also directs and choreographs several Teen Scene and mainstage shows every year. After 30 years in this industry, Schaeffer’s perception of theater has not changed.

“It is so helpful to get validation on the power of live performance. I feel very strongly that there is much value in this work,” she said.

It’s a lovely sight to see children being inspired and emotionally in tune with the characters on stage. Robyn Flatt, DCT’s executive artistic director, believes the value of theater is easily detectable just by watching children’s facial expressions.

She states, “Their eyes light up. They’re dynamic. They’re excited. They want to tell you about it. They have connected emotionally to the event, and then they have an experience that they want to share with you.”

Audience shot

DCT guests enjoy a live theater performance of Madeline’s Christmas.

Flatt goes on to say, “Emotion happens before learning and you’ve got to connect on that emotional level. And that’s what we do in theater. We bring emotion to it.”

I believe that kids who have seen DCT’s productions will remember these shows for the rest of their lives. The power of theater is remarkable, and DCT’s only hope is to share this power with generations to come.

This study will appear in the Winter 2015 issue of the online journal, Education Next, and is currently available on the publication’s website at http://educationnext.org/learning-live-theater. Please visit www.dct.org to get more information about our upcoming shows, events and academy classes.

To learn more about how your child, class or afterschool group can benefit from DCT’s programming, contact Nancy Schaeffer at 214-978-0110.


Written by: Tammie Riley, Community Engagement Coordinator
Hometown: Houston, TX
Studies: Public Relations, minor in Spanish and certificate in Technical Communication

Holiday Traditions at DCT

KA3_8199This year has been a memorable one.  There have been so many events and occurrences and outbreaks that have altered the world and most of them are too scary to share with our children.  We want them to believe in goodness but it’s not always easy. As we prepare for MIRACLE ON 34TH STREET, the two young actors playing Susan show us that kids understand the need for holiday cheer.

The story of MIRACLE ON 34TH STREET is not a new one.  Many remember the black and white film introducing the kind Kris Kringle to a young family that needed some hope. Here we are decades after that iconic film, still needing a gentle soul to help us maneuver through tricky times.


Blaire Marie Messmann and Francis Fuselier

DCT Executive Artistic Director Robyn Flatt will direct MIRACLE ON 34TH STREET alongside award-winning associate director Doug Miller.  Flatt explains, “The play speaks to loss, loneliness and the need for connection with others. Our Santa continually sees beyond the obvious, feeling the pain of young Susan who doesn’t have a father.  He recognizes her needs even more than her mother does, and he is determined that both mother and daughter will feel whole again.  We can all relate to their fear and uncertainty as we face the countless unfamiliar challenges of today. This is a time when we especially need to see compassion in action.”


Francis Fuselier and Lily Kate Forbes

Two young actors, Blaire Marie Messmann and Lily Kate Forbes are alternating the role of Susan, which requires an exceptional amount of depth in order to accurately portray. When we asked them about the message of the show, they both talked about decorating, music, cooking, having dinner, and all the things they do with their families. They also recalled the message of kindness they are telling through MIRACLE ON 34TH STREET.

Blaire Marie Messmann says, “DCT shows are a great way to kick off the holiday season.Any activity that gets children thinking about other people helps spread the Christmas spirit in our community.”

KA2_2241Lily Kate Forbes shares, “Working on Miracle on 34th Street has reminded me that Christmas is not only about toys and all of the commercial aspects of the season but it’s about sharing love and joy and happiness with everyone around you! Sharing live theater at DCT is a great holiday tradition for families because live theater is a really magical experience. When I was little one of my favorite things to do with my Mom was see shows because shows at the DCT are like storybooks come to life. It is really cool for little kids with growing minds to experience the magic of the holiday season through live theater.”This year KA3_7496willbe the first of many holiday trips to DCT for me and my kids. I can’t think of any better way to show them that Christmas is more than toys, and that there is need all around us, and that it’s the sharing of experiences they’ll remember when someone asks them about the Christmas spirit.

Robyn Flatt concludes, “We want our neighbors to know that Santa Claus himself is right here on DCT’s stage, very real, absolutely wonderful, and bringing to each and everyone a spirit we can all believe in.”


Thankful for the Arts and Special Needs

Child with Lady Za Za

Meeting Lady Za Za post show!

I fell in love with the arts as a young girl. Since then, I’ve always been amazed with music, dance and theater. Now that I’m all grown up, I’ve never considered the possibility of integrating both my career and my hobbies into one. While Dallas Children’s Theater (DCT) focuses most of its energies on entertaining those who were born after 2000, this 21-year-old loves how being in this creative, inspirational space makes my inner child feel.

I couldn’t help but smile as kids waited with excitement to see the sensory-friendly performance of RAPUNZEL! RAPUNZEL! A VERY HAIRY FAIRY TALE. Here at DCT, we take pleasure in providing a comfortable environment for all children. With accommodations like leaving the house lights up a few levels higher and reducing the sound level, our sensory-friendly shows allow families and children with special sensory needs to enjoy these wonderful stories that are so vividly brought to life on stage.

Laura Jones-Martinez (back left), friends and family enjoying DCT’s pre-show activities.

Laura Jones-Martinez, friends and family enjoying
DCT’s pre-show activities.


Children enjoyed some fun pre-show activities, including face painting and live clown performances in the lobby. Slappy and Monday were two of the most energetic clowns I’ve seen. For a moment, I had to remember that I was an employee.

Attendee Laura Neri said of the show “I wish all children’s theater was like this. My kids have a hard time sitting still, so it’s nice that they [DCT] don’t expect them to do so.”

Slappy the Clown tells stories to the children.

Slappy the Clown tells stories to the children.

At Dallas Children’s Theater, we are very committed to helping all children enjoy the benefits of live theater.  I was pleased when I heard that because of funders like the Michael Young Family Foundation and Communities Foundation of North Texas and a recent Dream Ball fundraiser, three more sensory shows are scheduled for next year!  The audience seemed very pleased to hear the news as well, which warmed my heart even more.

More fun activities before the show!

More fun activities before the show!

I had never attended a sensory show before this one, and I had no clue what to expect. But after experiencing that day and witnessing everyone’s joy, I suddenly remembered why I enjoy the arts so much. Seeing all the families share smiles and cheers with each other made me feel at home. Theater has always had that effect on me, like that warm, toasty feeling you have when you wake up on a winter holiday morning, or the thrill you get when your mom finally takes the turkey out of the oven. With the holiday season upon us, I keep thinking about how precious the time we spend with family is. It is awesome to see how DCT helps create great moments for all of these special families.

Going to a sensory-friendly show is actually something all families might consider.  What a great way for young children to appreciate the rainbow of KA2_8276families out there!  I know DCT would welcome you, too. Visit www.dct.org/sensory to see our lineup of sensory-friendly shows for next year. And of course, if you know of any families that would specifically benefit from these unique opportunities, please don’t hesitate to share this information. You never know what these family moments could mean to them.

By the way, DCT staff members recently sent out the information below. The stats reflect the sentiment DCT has gotten from families who came to one of our first three sensory shows. I’m proud of these results, and I thought they were worth sharing in this post.  Great work, DCT!


Verbal children will say they liked the experience / want to return to see another show. 80% 95%
Non-verbal children will be visibly at ease and/or engaged during the performance. 75% 93%
Parents will say their child with sensory sensitivities enjoyed the show. 80% 100%
Parents will say they believe their children were comfortable during the performance. 75% 95%
Parents will say they believe their children grew or learned through the experience. 85% 88%
Parents will say their children had a positive interaction with a person they didn’t know. 85% 90%
Parents will say they would like to come to another sensory-friendly performance. 80% 98%



Written by: Tammie Riley, Community Engagement Coordinator

Edited by:  Sandra Session-Robertson
Hometown: Houston, TX
Studies: Public Relations, minor in Spanish and certificate in Technical Communication

Chi Omega Christmas Market Offers DCT Supporters A Great Excuse To Go Shopping!

cocwreath_noyearWe are so excited to be a beneficiary of the 2014 Chi Omega Christmas Market.  The funds we receive from this organization will support our Curtains Up On Reading Program.  This program pairs a teaching artist from DCT with a classroom teacher for several weeks of creative learning exercises focused on helping students with an area that they might be having difficulty with. Christmas Market co-chairs Jenny Kaiser, Allison Cox, Sarah Koda were among those who selected DCT and other local beneficiaries.  They talked about why it made sense for their organization support this program through their annual fundraising efforts.

DCT  student performance at Notre Dame School 3/3/2011

According to Jenny Kaiser, “The style of teaching students the basiccurriculum through the arts opens new doors for the children to create, direct and explore allowing them a new voice and lots of pride.  Students not only  learn the curriculum but they  retain the information in a way that will forever leave an impression.”

Now in its 37th year, the 2014 Chi Omega Christmas Market will return to Centennial Hall at Fair Park November 19th – 22nd. Boasting 160-plus national vendors and attracting upwards of 10,000 shoppers, this anticipated annual event tops must-shop lists across the region.

At this year’s market, themed “Christmas in the City,” attendees can expect to find jewelry, home décor items, women’s fashion, toys, linens, and original art. What’s more, following the four-day event, thousands of dollars will be donated to area beneficiaries including Dallas Children’s Theater, Bea’s Kids, Children’s Advocacy Center of Collin County, CitySquare, Dallas Area Rape Crisis Center, Dallas Police Association’s Assist the Officer Foundation, Letot Center Capital Foundation, Make-a-Wish Foundation of North Texas, Project Transformation and Collegiate Scholarships.

“Each year, we strive to top the year before, and after a record-breaking year in 2013, we have our work cut out for us,” says Sara Koda, 2014 Chi Omega Christmas Market Co-chair. “This year, we have pledged $206,500 to our fantastic beneficiaries, and we would love nothing more than to surpass that goal.”

Ticket prices range from $12 advance purchase to $75 for a special preview party. For more information and to purchase tickets visit ChiOmegaXmas.org.

Kathy Burks, Frosty and Friends

There’s nothing quite as magical as puppets.

DSCN0976I dropped by Kathy Burks Theatre of Puppetry Arts to witness what looked like elves on a mission as they work to create the all new musical revue for the holidays, FROSTY & FRIENDS.  When I asked Kathy about the process, she responded as if she was telling me about her family. She told me about how hard the elves, Barry, Surly, and Zoe have been working and how Surly gets grumpy sometimes.  She then just paused, smiled and said, “This is fun. It’s always been fun.”

Many people consider puppets to be toys for children, but the true art of puppetry is an ancient and ever-evolving one.  When the Master Puppeteer picks up an inanimate puppet, he can make you believe that the character truly lives.  It is the result of intense training and hours of rehearsal, but the puppeteers make it look like magic. For FROSTY & FRIENDS, Kathy’s team chose to work in the styles of black theater rod puppets and marionettes, always searching for the best way to tell the story.

Several months ago, I saw Kathy in her studio creating one of the elves, DSCN0974precisely sculpting the face for just the right expression.  She cradled it in her hand as if she was listening, waiting for guidance. Zoe’s eyebrows weren’t quite right, so she’d continue working until it was her face.  Then, Sally Fiorello would take over to paint the faces, again making changes until they were just right, and then Lyle Huchton created original costumes for each of them.  If Zoe was being played by an actor, she had landed an enviable gig.  Actors don’t always get this kind of undivided attention.

DSCN1279Of course Zoe will do her part too, accepting the careful manipulation of her Master Puppeteer and propelling the energy into an audience who has been promised some holiday magic. No wonder Kathy has so much fun. She reflects, “To see these things from your imagination come to life is great fun. I’ve always liked what I do, and I hope the children are going to like it, too. We’re like the elves, working feverishly to prepare for the holidays, and laughing through the hard work. I’m just so lucky.”

Holidays are a time to BELIEVE.

Believe Season Image (1)

Now that we’re approaching the holidays, our BELIEVE entries are taking on additional significance as we revisit them.  Amanda Maceda joined us for opening night of our Teen Scene presentation of NIGHT OF THE LIVING DSCN1019DEAD on October 17, and she brought along a couple of her lifelong friends as she was honored as a grand prize winner with her artwork, Fading Color of Life. Amanda’s creation was one of the first we received, and it was a mesmerizing self-portrait with a vibrant green fading to gray.  Before the performance as Amanda was presented and asked about her inspiration, she told us about her commitment to preserving the environment with a word of caution that had everyone’s attention.  There we were, a room full of zombies suddenly inspired to bring life back to our earth.

Our next opening is going to be one of the most festive events I can imagine, as both of our holiday shows, FROSTY & FRIENDS and MIRACLE ON 34TH STREET open on November 21.  The Rosewood Center will be full of families with kids, finally out of their candy-induced fogs ready for the most wonderful DSCN1020time of the year.  There will be live music, photo ops with Santa’s elves, balloon animals, tasty treats, and the lobby will be decked out in silver and blue and it will be spectacular. That is also when we will celebrate two more grand prize winners.  At age 5, William Croupe was our youngest entry, but his imagination is already well-honed.  William believes in magic, as we all do during the holidays, and he believes “magic makes things easier.”  I still think he will be shocked when he and his family see the magic that Kathy Burks’ crew of master puppeteers creates with FROSTY & FRIENDS.  I’ve seen them in rehearsal, and believe me, they only make it look easy!

MIRACLE ON 34TH STREET is one of those stories that you can’t experience too many times.  I only knew this story as a film, but having been introduced to the script, and to the charming actors that are going to play Kris Kringle andDSCN1045 the young Susan, I cannot wait to see this show on stage.  All of the warm feelings we long for at Christmas are right there.  It’s about faith, family, and togetherness and one of the most adorable young elves you can imagine! That same feeling of warmth and togetherness was expressed in Mimi Clot De Broissia’s contest entry, Together Forever.  Mimi volunteers at an animal shelter and sculpted a detailed depiction of what it’s like when a pet finally goes home with a loving family.  I can’t think of a more appropriate time to honor her.

We are going to extend an invitation for all of the kids who entered our BELIEVE contest to join us for the first two weekends of our holiday shows because their work is important and we are so thankful they shared it with us.  Check out two new contests for teens HERE and please enjoy your holidays together with us!


Many thanks to Chooze Shoes and Accessories for providing custom gifts for each of our our grand prize winners. choozeshoes.com


Lots of Locks and Love


LOLLOGOAs we celebrate the successful run of RAPUNZEL! RAPUNZEL! A VERY HAIRY FAIRY TALE, we can’t help but be obsessed with hair. It’s everywhere, and our friends at Locks of Love have been educating us on their efforts to provide much-needed hair to children suffering from medical hair loss.

Locks of Love is a non-profit organization which utilizes donated hair to provide custom hairpieces to financially disadvantaged children under age 21 with medical hair loss from burns, radiation treatment, alopecia, or other conditions which cause them to lose their hair.

Zoe Long

DCT Executive Artistic Director Robyn Flatt’s granddaughter, Zoe, has participated in Locks of Love, and explained, “They cut off ten inches of your hair to be made into wigs.” The manufacturing process uses up two inches, leaving only eight inches for the hairpiece, and it takes 6-10 ponytails to complete a child-size wig.  Of course, as Zoe pointed out, Locks of Love could do wonders with Rapunzel’s locks!

For more information, visit locksoflove.org.  Toni & Guy Hairdressing at Hillcrest Crossing is a local participating salon.  You can find out more about them at toniguy.com.