When Bridget Townsend took her 5-year-old daughter to see “The Nutcracker Suite” for the first time, the child was not impressed.
“She’s watching the ballet and she’s going, ‘Is anybody going to say something?’” She says it just like that,” Towsend said, laughing at the memory. “She said, ’Is anybody going to talk?’ And then she asked, ‘When is half time?’”
They ended up leaving at “half time,” Townsend said, and that experience eventually led her and her husband — co-founders of the Lawrence-based Performing Arts Conservatory — to come up with a contemporary take on the classic holiday tradition, with lots of input from youth who participate in PAC programs.
Two performances of the reimagined “Nutcracker Suite” are scheduled. The first is set for 1 p.m. Nov. 18 at Castleton United Methodist Church, 7101 Shadeland Ave.; and the second is 4 p.m. Nov. 19 at Witherspoon Presbyterian Church, 3535 W. Kessler Blvd. N. Dr.
Townsend said the 29 kids in the program this year are “a wonderful small group with a huge impact,” who will be sharing their interpretation of “The Nutcracker” with help from screenwriter Tiffany Wolfork.
“The fun thing about it is, yes, it is infused with the true story of ‘The Nutcracker,’ but they found ways to embrace their own community and their own culture,” Townsend said.
She said the performance changes every year to reflect the message the kids want to convey. The music is based on Duke Ellington’s jazz version of “The Nutcracker,” with a couple of original compositions by her husband, Robert Townsend. The show includes instrumental and vocal performances, along with dance and drama.
“We make sure that we work together with all four performing arts disciplines,” she said. “We have dancers, singers, performing artists for drama and instrumentalists. What we’re really doing is, we’re trying to teach these kids: Here’s how you work together as a group. Here’s how what you do impacts another group, because we believe these are life skills that they have to have just to be in whatever industry or workforce that they decide to join.”
Townsend said they’ve had hundreds of kids come through the program since the Performing Arts Academy was founded in 2012. Some have continued with the performing arts, but she said that isn’t necessarily the goal of the program, which serves grades six through 12.
“What we’ve noticed over these years that we’ve had the after-school program is that kids come in very introverted, very shy, lacking confidence that they can do other things, particularly in their schools,” she said. “We’re seeing that we’re building up their confidence, their self-esteem, their ability to believe in themselves and that they can do different things and really, you know, be out there and extend themselves.”
Townsend said they serve students from throughout the greater Indianapolis area, but most of the youth in the Performing Arts Conservatory are from Lawrence Township and Indianapolis’ east side. The PAC’s headquarters are at 7160 Shadeland Station, next to Castleton United Methodist Church in Lawrence.
For more about PAC, and for ticket information, visit tpacindy.org.