For Liz Robertson, the new president of the Horizon Youth Theatre board, her passion isn’t just for theater, but in bringing all facets of it to kids.
“It takes a village to raise a child, and it takes a team to create a theater,” Robertson said. “We want to interact with as many nonprofits in the creative space as we can, but also with any performing arts venues and groups in the area. Which means it’s going to be a lot of talking with groups and seeing how we can help each other out.”
A new perspective emerged out of the pandemic for both the group and Robertson, and she’s moved from doing theater to the behind-the-scenes organizational management side. The newly elected board president is looking at theater through a larger lens.
“It was just very important for the organization to provide theater opportunities,” Robertson said. “Whenever there’s a missing hole there, in their extracurricular activities, they know it and they miss it. So we were trying to come back as quickly as we could.”
The big change is moving to a committee structure, in order to bring more volunteers into everyday activities. There was previously a core working board of volunteers, with everyone taking turns producing shows.
“We found that model was not necessarily sustainable and not helping us grow,” Robertson said. “It was helping us maintain, but when we tried to do bigger things, everyone was overwhelmed.”
It’s already helping engage parents more.
“We’re looking for anybody who is eager and interested in providing youth with opportunities to perform and do theater, in general,” Robertson said.
This is the 26th season for Horizon, which emerged out of the Black Swamp Players. The entire focus is on kids aged 6 to 18 years old, or through high school.
“We try to include as many as we can,” Robertson said. “It has been as small as seven or eight kids, but there has been as many as 60 kids, not including the backstage crew of at least 10.”
There are many success stories.
Robertson relates an understudy story. The lead got sick and a blossoming young actor got her chance.
Not everyone acts.
“The backstage crew is also driven to put on a fantastic performance,” Robertson said.
Many of the kids pull double-duty, running from a school rehearsal to Horizon. She describes them as being “passionate about performance.”
One boy decided that he was going to learn the sound board. A year later he is the regular sound tech, with two shows under his belt, as a high school freshman.
“We’re an education nomadic theater group, geared to a younger grade,” Robertson said. “Due to our nomadic nature, we do theater in all kinds of different spaces.”
They don’t have a firm stage, constantly moving around for rehearsals, workshops, summer camps and shows.
“We’ve done a bunch of different churches and we also have a partnership with Otsego,” Robertson said.
She has been involved in theater since third grade. She also did it professionally, for a short time.
“I enjoy engaging in my community, in an artistic way. I feel like we are filling a gap in community needs,” Robertson said. “We have a lot of homeschoolers. We have a lot of kids who maybe didn’t make it into their high school production, but still have a love for theater. I love being able to provide that opportunity, but also love watching the kids grow.”
She did her first work with Horizon while she was an education student at Bowling Green State University, in 2012. She returned in 2020, when resident director Cassie Greenlee needed an assistant director for “And a Child Shall Lead.”
“It was quite an experience having to do theater masked,” Robertson said of the pandemic work. “I was very interested and it kind of reinvigorated my love for children’s theater. I became very active after that.”
The COVID shows had smaller cast sizes, mask requirements for everyone and a socially distanced live audience maxed out with 20 people. Now, things are basically back to normal, and Robertson couldn’t be happier about it.
There are several dates coming up for kids interested in the Horizon Youth Theatre.
April 1 is a “Shakesplosion” audition workshop, which is a kid-friendly abridged introduction to Shakespeare as a single show. It will cover the basics of auditioning and Shakespearean language. Auditions for “Shakespolsion” are April 17 and 18.
Robertson encourages going to the group’s website www.HorizonYouthTheatre.org, or emailing questions to [email protected]