Horizon Youth Theatre marks 20th year with gala

Mr. Basket (Thomas Long) declares Ms. Sloe (Sophi Hachtel) the winner in "The Great Cross Country Race."


BG Independent News

The seed for Horizon Youth theatre was planted in the dead of winter.

Horizon Youth Theatre performs original versions of Aesop’s Fables on stage at the Cla-Zel during the 2001 Black Swamp Arts Festival.

One February night in 1997, Scott Regan, a Bowling Green State University professor of theatre and director of its Treehouse Troupe, gathered more than a dozen people involved in the arts to discuss a dream: the creation of a theater troupe for young people. The attendees didn’t need to be convinced of the value of theater for kids. The only question is whether such a troupe could take root in Bowling Green.

Now more than 20 years later, Horizon Youth Theatre is blossoming. Approximately 1000 people attended the four performances of its recent musical “Cinderella.” Throughout the year it offers workshops for kids of all ages.

Horizon Youth theatre will celebrate its 20th anniversary Saturday, July 15, 6-9 p.m. in the Simpson Building Banquet room. Tickets are $15. Visit http://horizonyouththeatre.org/2017/05/20-anniversary-gala/.

The gala opens with a red carpet extravaganza with heavy hors d’oeuvres and music by the GRUBS. A program will follow at 7 featuring five short performances interspersed by testimonials by three alumni: Genevieve Simon, an actress now in New York; Grace Easterly; and Brittany Albrecht. (Simon will also present a workshop on Shakespeare and autism earlier in the day from 2 to 3:30p.m. at St. Mark’s Lutheran Church for actors 8-18. Cost $10.)

The troupe will also honor its founders Scott Regan and Jo Beth Gonzales, the high school drama teacher.

Regan said that the idea for the troupe came after a BGSU production of “A Christmas Carol,” which he had directed. The production used a lot of children, and once Scrooge took his final bow, the young thespians wanted to know, what can we do next?

Gonzalez had just finished her doctoral studies and was ready for a new venture. The troupe started by offering summer workshops at the university. Its first production was “Charlotte’s Web.”

In its first decade or so, the troupe had a connection with BGSU through Regan. When he retired in 2006, the troupe reorganized as an independent entity. In 2010 HYT linked up with the Black Swamp Players.

As with other troupes in Bowling Green, HYT  finds itself bouncing from stage to stage – the Woodland Mall, St. Mark’s and the First United Presbyterian, the Wolfe Center on campus, and now Otsego High School.

Ugly (William Cagle) is bullied in the barnyard in 2016 production of “Honk!”

HYT has become an integral link in the local theatrical scene. They’ve sent actors and crew members onto the high school program and to the Toledo School for the Arts. They’ve shared their talents with other community theater companies. In addition to the troupe’s formal relationship with Black Swamp Players, they also have ties to Lionface Productions, with several of their directors and teachers connected to that troupe.

HYT members have gone on to study theater in college at institutions including BGSU, Ohio State, Wright State, Baldwin-Wallace, and Amherst College.

And while former members have received raves for their appearances on stages far from Bowling Green, giving birth to stars is not the troupe’s prime mission. HYT is an educational venture. Learning to stage a production is part of that, but so is learning to write a play, getting tips on how to audition, or delving into the subtleties of Shakespeare.

And so is learning to work together and the value of the imagination.

Regan tells a story of a young HYT member who was facing a serious medical procedure. To cope she turned to her memories of the theater. She’d been in HYT’s production of “Winnie the Pooh,” so she imagined herself in the Hundred Acre Wood.

The troupe is a family affair with parents playing a key role in keeping it running. They shepherd the young actors to rehearsals and on and off stage during shows and rehearsals. They take care of the administrative details including filling out paperwork and finding the venues.

Thomas Edge, a member of the board, said his family moved to Bowling Green in 2011 so he could teach in the School for Cultural and Critical Studies.

A couple years later his daughter was in the cast of “The Best Christmas Pageant Ever,” a joint production of the Black Swamp Players and HYT.

“When we got involved in Horizon Youth Theatre, that’s when Bowling Green became home for us,” he said. “We found our people. … Seeing the enthusiasm of the other parents, I couldn’t help but get involved.”