After a strange and different 69th season, Davenport Junior Theatre (DJT) is starting its 70th season with another new twist – the shows are now free to see.
The beloved, sweet “Winnie the Pooh” opens the season this weekend and is the first show ever to eliminate the barrier of admission price.
“For nearly 70 years we have charged admission for DJT Mainstage shows,” said board president Kristin Meyer. “But the last couple years has us thinking about different barriers we can knock down to make the performing arts more accessible. Eliminating ticket admissions seemed like a good place to start.”
Development director Daniel Sheridan is new in his position since 2020 (including alumni relations, fundraising, grant writing, and developing the DJT museum), after 12 years as artistic director.
While Ben Gougeon succeeded him in that role, DJT restructured in the past few months, and no longer has an artistic director (Gougeon is working as theater coordinator for Davenport Parks & Recreation, as well as part-time production assistant at WHBF-TV).
They reorganized into a small leadership circle, splitting the responsibilities among a development director, producing stage manager, production manager, administrative manager and a board advisor.
Taking a BIG leap
“The free tickets is a big leap for us!” Sheridan said Tuesday by e-mail. “We sort of made the commitment and then decided we would figure out the loss in ticket revenue as we go along. We felt allowing access for families was too important, especially as we come out of the pandemic.
“We really believe in the power that live theatre can offer, especially kids seeing other kids,” he said. “We have fallen short on a couple grants to support the initiative but plan to keep trying. We are working on individual and business donors who believe in the mission and the cause of providing arts. Others have seen ticket prices go up. We took a leap of faith in the opposite direction.”
“Winnie the Pooh” involves 23 students from six area cities and towns in the QC. The kids, who range in age from 10-18, are the actors, crew members, tech board operators, front-of-house team members and more.
Local professional theatre artists work alongside the kids to create a dynamic theatre experience while training youth in theatrical production.
A classic tale worth retelling
“The story is a classic,” said director Zach Meyer. “It is a story of kindness and friendship. It is about accepting our flaws, striving to do better, and relying on your friends to help you along the way. It’s a story worth telling every generation. In fact, many of our design professionals working on the show today were in this show at DJT when they were kids.”
Based on the novel published in 1926 by A.A. Milne, “Winnie the Pooh” tells the story of a lovable bear and his misadventures when his heart, and tummy, get too focused on honey. Mayhem ensues when two new animals arrive at the forest; Kanga and Roo. Piglet gets a bath, Pooh gets stuck in Rabbit’s door, and Eeyore’s plans to have a good day are dashed.
“We didn’t want to simply mimic the Disney version,” said Zach Meyer. “We went back to the original illustrations of E.H. Shepherd for inspiration. Since the illustrations were made in consultation with A.A. Milne, we felt they had something special to offer. The costumes feel more like stuffed animals. The set feels like a sketch that has been water colored over.”
Founded in 1951, Davenport Junior Theatre is the nation’s second-oldest children’s theatre. Classes and camps are offered year-round in theatre and dance for students ages three to eighteen. Classes are as varied as acting, improvisation, musical theatre, and theatrical design.
In the quickly-growing dance division – which is now in its 10th year – young dancers learn poise and confidence while having fun and making friends in a non-competitive dance environment. Summers see a myriad of camps and other activities for kids of all ages.
Through all these opportunities, DJT prepares kids for a lifetime of success, no matter what path their lives may take.
“Winnie the Pooh” performances (at Nighswander Theatre, 2822 Eastern Ave.), will be Saturdays, Oct. 16 and 23 at 1 p.m. and 4 p.m., and Sundays, Oct. 17 and 24 at 3 p.m. Admission is free for everyone, first come, first served. For more information, visit davenportjuniortheatre.org.