Young artists thrive at theater center

Scott Gordon

Eight-year-old Ashley Patton already can impress a crowd.

The young performer recited Langston Hughes’ poem “My People” on Wednesday night before an audience of about 30 at an open house for the new Fleetwood-Jourdain Theatre Outreach Center. The outreach center, located in the Noyes Cultural Arts Center at 927 Noyes St., will host writers workshops and other theater-based activities.

“It teaches you cultural arts and things like that,” Patton said of the outreach program.

The program’s goal is to “get the Evanston theater community active,” said Ebony Joy, outreach program supervisor. Joy, an Evanston native, has written three plays and directed off-Broadway productions in New York.

Starting May 17, the outreach center will offer a workshop for young writers from ages 14 to 18. In June, the center will begin hosting spoken word performances and formal readings of new scripts for future productions, theater program manager Lee Davis said.

The outreach center will provide a new tool for the Fleetwood-Jourdain Theatre, located at the Family Focus Center at 2010 Dewey Ave. The new center will allow the theatre program to expand more into the community.

“We need a smaller space where we’ll be able to do workshops and classes,” said Amy Eaton, director of the Evanston Children’s Theatre, part of the Fleetwood-Jourdain Theatre program.

In addition to the outreach center, the theater program is in the process of getting new performance space at the Fleetwood-Jourdain Community Center, 1655 Foster St. that will be ready by mid-fall.

The theater currently performs in a 250-seat auditorium at Family Focus. For the past two years, budget cuts have threatened the theater’s funding because of the rent it pays to Family Focus, but lobbying from residents has kept it alive.

Allen “Bo” Price, who has lived in Evanston for 80 years, said arts programs foster a bond between children and their communities.

“We have a lot of young people who come back,” said Price, who added that he has his own memories of both the community center and the theater.

“For 70 years, I’ve been going to that piece of real estate,” Price said of the community center. “I hope you’ll keep that piece of real estate alive.”

Resident Annie Washington said all six of her kids, ages 5 to 11, participate in the program.

“This makes them aware of the art world,” Washington said. Working on a production teaches children to accomplish things thoroughly, she added.

The Fleetwood-Jourdain Theatre program finished its run of Langston Hughes’ “Black Nativity” in January. Its latest production, “A Ride on the ‘A’ Train,” will be presented May 22.

Ald. Elizabeth Tisdahl (7th), who attended the open house, said she has enjoyed many of the theater’s productions since it began in 1980.

“I think the rest of the world needs what (the theater) has to offer,” Tisdahl said.