NEA Arts Magazine

NEA Spotlight: Orphan Girl Theatre

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A scene from the Orphan Girl Theatre’s production of Antigone

A scene from the Orphan Girl Theatre’s production of Antigone. Photo: courtesy of the Butte Center for the Performing Arts.

In 2003, the Butte Center for the Performing Arts, located in Montana, received a Coming Up Taller Award from the NEA. This year, a new grant and a new summer camp program have been added to the Butte Center’s list of awards and achievements.

Two theaters are located in the Butte Center: the Mother Lode and the Orphan Girl. It is the latter that has garnered a great deal of attention of late. The Orphan Girl Theatre operates year round with after-school and summer programs for children ages 5-18.

In addition to preparing and presenting musical productions, young people write and produce melodramas set in turn-of-the-century Butte. These original, one-act historical comedies are researched at libraries, the Butte Archives, the Mining Museum, and the Montana Tech campus by the student actors who receive scholarships to participate in the program.

Through this research, the students develop a better understanding of history, enhance their ability to conduct historical research, and increase their appreciation of the popular literature from past decades. The Butte Center holds workshops, ranging from jazz and cabaret performance to the business of show business -- with students handling royalties, box office duties, and concessions. They also learn stage lighting, set construction, and sound management. Recently, students have enjoyed producing a classic Greek drama -- Sophocles’ Antigone.

The latest program undertaken by the Butte Center is the Dennis and Phyllis Washington Summer Theatre Camp. Suzanne Konicek, Artistic Director of the Orphan Girl Theatre, said, “This summer we were provided with the resources to offer intensive theater workshops led by highly qualified instructors recruited from across the nation. As a result, Butte’s young people enjoyed a summer theater camp experience that rivaled camp experiences offered in larger metropolitan areas. Not only was this a wonderful opportunity for the local students but an exciting chance for the Orphan Girl Theatre to push its educational program forward, reaching a greater number of students and a higher standard of excellence in theater education.”

Finally, the Orphan Girl Theatre has received another grant. According to the President of the Butte Center, Helen Guthrie Miller, the Coming Up Taller Award helped persuade the Dennis and Phyllis Washington Foundation, based in Montana, to give $75,000 over a three-year period. This represents the largest grant ever given by the Washington Foundation to an arts institution. Helen Guthrie Miller said, “The award…certainly put the exclamation point to peer recognition.”

Conferred annually by the President’s Committee on the Arts and the Humanities (PCAH), the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA), the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH), and the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS), Coming Up Taller Awards recognize organizations that provide exemplary after-school programs in the arts and humanities. Each organization receives $10,000.