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Stephens theatre students act out stories in community

August 23, 2017


This was no ordinary Saturday morning at Barnes & Noble at the Columbia Mall.

A voice over the loudspeaker had just announced that two Disney characters will be arriving soon to read stories to children at the bookstore. Boys and girls gather around the children’s reading stage, wiggling and giggling with excitment.

But when Anna and her sister, Snow Queen Elsa, the stars of Disney’s “Frozen,” arrive, the children fall silent, stunned to be in the presence of two of their favorite movie characters.

“I have a dress with a picture of you on it!” a girl says.

“Me, too!” says another girl. 

Little did the children know that Anna and Elsa are actually Alexandria Borisenko ’20 and Natalie Botkins ’19, theatre students at Stephens College, where this fall the School of Creative and Performing Arts is offering a new emphasis area in theatre for young audiences through its Bachelor of Fines Arts in Theatre Arts program.

The students’ appearance at Barnes & Noble is part of the many outreach programs put on by the Theatre Reaching Young People and Schools (TRYPS) Institute at Stephens.

Live at Eleven is a free 30-minute workshop for children ages 2-8 that happens once a month at the Columbia Public Library and Barnes & Noble. The idea is to help children connect literacy, theatre and creative play.  

“Our Stephens students appear as a princess or storybook character, read a book and interact with children as they color or fill in activity sheets,” said Jill Womack, executive artistic director at TRYPS Institute and assistant professor of children’s theatre. “Children love interacting with their favorite characters.” 

TRYPS Institute also sends princess characters to the Children’s Hospital for monthly visits.

“The Stephens students gain invaluable outreach experience as workshop leaders, as well as providing enriching theatre arts experiences for the mid-Missouri community and children,” Womack said. 

In Spring 2017, six B.F.A. students created the Royal Readers program, which is a reading readiness program that they bring into area preschools. The Stephens students create a leave-behind book featuring activities and content tailored to their book and princess character. They dress as a princess, read a book, play a theatre game or sing a song with children before leading them through one activity in the booklet.

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