When former Henry County resident Brooke McCord directed her first show, she was 16 years old and working under the acclaimed late local artist, Ken Alexander. Eight years later, McCord is directing her final show, “Sleepy Hollow,” with the Krider Performing Arts Center.
McCord, who now lives in Clarksville, plans to move to Missouri in early December. She currently makes the commute from Clarksville to Paris for work three or more times a week.
She says the long drive is worth it.
“The theater has always been such a welcoming environment and I love that I’ve been able to foster that here for the community,” she said.
“The kids really love coming to the theater and it just brings me joy knowing that they walk in and are excited to be there.”
McCord has directed 25 shows in the past eight years, and 20 of those have been through KPAC.
In that time, she’s also been able to establish new programs at the theater alongside KPAC Manager and Arts Programming Director Rhonda Stanton.
One of those programs, KPAC Ambassadors, tasks selected students to build a show and tour it to local daycares. The theater has been inviting schools to child-friendly shows for years, but the Ambassadors program allows young children to experience performance art without leaving their daycare.
“We also have Shining Star Theatre, which is a free program we recently started for students with disabilities to learn and explore the world of theater,” McCord said.
“At the end of the week-long program, there’s a show for everyone to come and see.”
McCord isn’t a one-trick pony. One of the plays she directed at KPAC, “Sketches,” is an original work.
“That one was especially fun because the kids really helped build these characters I put on paper,” she said. “Watching them bring these characters to life was so imaginative and creative. It’s a really special memory and production for me.”
She wrote the show, which focused on the way children can struggle with mental health, and later directed it for students 12 and older.
“Working on that show, we were able to do a lot of educational lessons on stress management, mental well-being and how to get help if you need it,” she said of the play, which focused on a young girl moving to a new neighborhood.
Most, but not all, of McCord’s work has been through KPAC. She studied theatre with an emphasis in direction at her alma mater, Murray State University.
She directed there as well as through the Paris-Henry County Arts Council and Twilight Cabaret Theater, which is a professional theater operating at Kenlake State Resort Park in western Kentucky.
As someone who has been directing children and teaching them about theatre for years, McCord said the art form can be beneficial to kids in many ways.
“There’s an exposure to reading, public speaking, and history but also time management, commitment, teamwork, communication, and empathy. When you’re in a show you’re committing to this role for weeks to months at a time,” she said.
“You’ve got to read your script, memorize your lines and rehearse them hundreds of times, while also managing to learn blocking, and even music and choreography at times.”
McCord doesn’t think of these as the only benefit, though. She said working with other people and learning how to collaborate is a major skill taught through theater.
“You’re with all these other people learning alongside you and you build these relationships,” she said. “It’s a really rewarding experience and you see a lot of friendships grow from it.”
McCord said she’s happy local children and teenagers have so many opportunities to learn arts in Paris and Henry County.
“Our kids could learn to play an instrument, sing in a choir, take dance classes, painting classes or be in a play,” she said.
“They’re not limited to just one thing. It’s rare that we can provide all these opportunities to kids and so important that we continue to have this for our youth. They’re able to build up these skills as they’re growing up that can really take them places in the future.”
“Sleepy Hollow” opens at 7 p.m. Friday at KPAC and has a cast of roughly 30 children from ages 10-18. There will also be a 3 p.m. matinee Saturday.
The show is rated PG-10 for its spooky nature, and tickets are $10 for adults, $8 for senior citizens 65 and older, and $5 for students and children. They are on sale now at the Civic Center and online at Brown Paper Tickets.