Eight years ago, Jamie Ulmer was looking for a way to involve young Beatrice students in theater.
What resulted were a number of educational programs at Beatrice Community Players that constituted a new wave of growth for the theater, according to Ulmer, Community Players managing artistic director.
“That’s where the growth is really coming from, is from our youth and our outreach program, and that’s seen such great interest and we know it’s making a huge impact on the kids,” Ulmer said.
Tyler Rinne, the theater's associate artistic director, heads the education program Acting Up at Community Players.
The Acting Up is an after-school pogrom open to students in grades five through eight. Each semester, students put on a production, such as "The Hobbit," which was recently featured at the theater.
Another program is Stars of Summer, which is open to children ages eight to 15.
Since the start of the program, Rinne has seen more members of the community attend the shows because they enjoy it.
“The community is invested in this programming; that obviously they are supporting their kids and grand kids, but also that they’re realizing that these shows put on by children have a great production value and can be just as entertaining,” Rinne said.
The education program not only provides students with a creative outlet for their acting, but it helps Community Players ensure they will get future actors.
Rinne said that he has had many students from the Acting Up or Stars of Summer education programs come back to help with productions when they are older.
“We’ve seen a lot of my kids that start out as fifth-grade or younger in the Acting Up program, and they stick around and are stage manager for that same program,” Rinne said. “Or they are volunteering or acting on main-stage shows, or they are building up talents that they can use in high school productions.”
Rinne said the biggest benefit of the education programs is seeing the kids enjoy themselves in theater and learn about acting and life skills.
Community Players has grown a lot since it first started in 1975. According to Ulmer, the organization made the bold move of hiring an artistic director as soon it was founded.
“What Community Players did on their first meeting was they jumped from 'let’s put on a show' to the middle of the stages of development,” Ulmer said. "Because (at) that first meeting, they decided to hire an artistic director and that’s the big threshold for organization development.”
After their first big leap, Community Players set up shop at the old Elks Club, now the parking lot to the Police Department.
Ulmer said due to the size of the building, the organization decided it needed a change of scenery. Their next home was at Southeast Community College, but the building later burned down.
Following the fire, Community Players floated around town until 1981, when an old motorcycle shop at 412 Ella St. was purchased by a Community Players board member and was leased to the organization.
Today, Community Players still calls that building home.
Over 20 years ago, Community Players was only producing three regular season and one off-season show. This season, they have six regular season shows and three off-season. Since the growth in production, they often run out of rehearsal space.
That's where the basement at Brick and Mortar Realty comes in. The space is rented out as need, but Ulmer said that the theater will eventually need to be looking at expanding their facility or finding a new one.
Community Players continues to grow as they get more youth involved in their program. They have also seen a growth in community support as well.
Having the support of the community has helped with collaborations. This season Community Players is collaborated with Beatrice Community Hospital for a show at the end of October. The theater also worked with the Gage County Historical Society to put on a special program earlier this month saluting local veterans of WWI.
Ulmer is looking to add collaborations in the 2019-2020 season but does not have anything set in stone yet. This year, Community Players also saw their first season sponsor as well in BCH.