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Utah Children’s Theater Fills Seats With A Focus On Common Core

Lee Hale
Actors perform Aesop's Fables for a theater full of first and second graders.

Over the past few years the Utah Children’s Theater in South Salt Lake has seen a dramatic decrease in elementary school classes signing up for field trips. And then they decided to embrace common core.

It’s a Thursday morning at the Utah Children’s Theater and it’s nearly a full house. Around 150 first and second graders are here to see a performance of Aesop's Fables.


They spend a few minutes on each fable. This one is called the Monkey and the Dolphin. Which involves a monkey accepting a ride on the back of a dolphin to get to Athens.


But, when the dolphin finds out the monkey has been lying about being an Athenian, she gets upset. The monkey is dropped into the sea to fend for himself.


The actors recite the moral of the story in unison, “Those who lie will end up in trouble.”


“The arts are not just important, they’re vital," says Meighan Smith, one of the actors. "It’s vital that these students have these artistic experiences.”


Meighan Smith is also the theater’s education specialist. She wants as many students as possible to have a real theater experience. Which is why she was concerned as the number schools attending their daytime performances began dropping.



Amanda Smith, who helps run the theater, says the reason they arrived at was pretty simple.


“Our program doesn’t coincide with common core," says Amanda.


Since budgets are tight, schools are very picky about how they use their field trip money. So, Amanda and Meighan adjusted their approach.


They began choosing plays based on common core literature, like Aesop’s Fables. They also made the performances more interactive. And offered schools supplemental teaching materials.


The number of classes attending more than doubled.


“And we’re kind of the only real theater company that’s doing that," says Amanda. "We’re making a show specifically for common core.”


In an age of testing and state standards, this approach is keeping their art alive.


Lee Hale began listening to KUER while he was teaching English at a Middle School in West Jordan (his one hour commute made for plenty of listening time). Inspired by what he heard he applied for the Kroc Fellowship at NPR headquarters in DC and to his surprise, he got it. Since then he has reported on topics ranging from TSA PreCheck to micro apartments in overcrowded cities to the various ways zoo animals stay cool in the summer heat. But, his primary focus has always been education and he returns to Utah to cover the same schools he was teaching in not long ago. Lee is a graduate of Brigham Young University and is also fascinated with the way religion intersects with the culture and communities of the Beehive State. He hopes to tell stories that accurately reflect the beliefs that Utahns hold dear.
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