Herein is contained the history-in-brief of All-of-us Express Children’s Theatre; for more information, visit the AECT Archive, where you can find all of our past seasons and show photographs as well as a few extras (such as a timeline of AECT’s history)!
All-of-us Express All-of-us Children’s Theatre is a 501(c)(3) non-profit corporation. Prior to the merger with the City of East Lansing Parks, Recreation, and Arts department, the Artistic Director was the full-time employee of All-of-us Express Children’s Theatre, hired and supervised by the AECT Board of Trustees.
The Board remains in control of the 501(c)(3) non-profit corporation, and are still elected by the Membership, and they continue to play an important advisory role to the running of the theater, but since the merger the theater program has been run as a division of the Recreation and Arts department of the City of East Lansing with the Artistic Director an employee of the City. Everyone else has been and still is either a volunteer, or hired on a contract basis for a particular show or class or event. (Many of the people who are hired on a contract basis for a particular job–Director or craft supervisor–are also volunteers in other areas or at other times.)
1989 – 2015
All-of-us Express Children’s Theatre began in March 1989. Founder Evelyn Weymouth had been free-lancing children’s drama in the greater Lansing area; teaching classes, performing and directing. As she met and conversed with the parents of her students she often mentioned she would someday like to have a theater company that did theater for children by children. When the question asked by parents changed from, “Are you still planning to start a children’s theater company?” to, “When are you planning to start a children’s theater company?,” Evelyn knew the time was right. She sent a notice to her entire mailing list stating that there would be an organizational meeting on March 30, 1989. Eighteen people showed up and the company began.
The first few months were spent working on organizational tasks such as writing bylaws, choosing a name for the company and obtaining nonprofit status. After a while, however, the dry management duties began to pale and the decision was made to produce a play before the other tasks were completed. Auditions for Winnie-the-Pooh were held on October 7 & 8, 1989. About 25 young people showed up; 17 were cast and All-of-us Express was off and running! (This show was performed in the auditorium of what was then Hannah Middle School.)
During the first season, Evelyn (the company manager) received a call from the Capitol Library Cooperative saying that they had received a grant to bring entertainment into all 32 of their libraries and did All-of-us Express have something to offer? Evelyn said, ‘Yes,’ then spent several weeks scrambling to put together Storybook Story Theater. That endeavor proved to be highly successful and so the summer SBST touring group was formed.
For the first five seasons (fall 1989 to summer 1994), All-of-us Express did three shows a year and toured Storybook Story Theater. The only deviation from this pattern was during the summer of 1994. During that time Evelyn was not available to direct SBST, so Doreen Evans (company costumer and a professional clown) put together a clown troupe, called Clowns at Play. The clowns toured to libraries and festivals during that summer.
The sixth season (fall 1994 to summer 1995) saw four shows produced and three touring groups going out. In addition to SBST and the clown troupe, Doreen and Evelyn formed ACTORS (All-of-us Express Children’s Theatre Often Returning Storytellers). This troupe toured to schools during the school day and presented folk tales done in story theater fashion.
The seventh and eighth seasons (fall 1995 to summer 1997) contained five shows and three touring companies while adding three studio productions. The studio productions were in collaboration with a local community theatre, Riverwalk Theatre, and were titled Riverwalk Express. Each production consisted of two short plays (10 to 15 minutes long) done as a class.
Whoever signed up for the class was guaranteed a part in both shows; rehearsals ran for two hours a day, three days a week, for four weeks; and ended in a production put on at Riverwalk Theater and open to the general public. These classes were designed to give new actors some stage experience and to give student director candidates a chance to try out their wings.
During the ninth season (1997-8), the company moved from its Frandor location next to Hobby Hub to a new temporary location, on West Saginaw, and began a serious search for a less temporary and larger space. The company had grown from doing three plays a year with an average audition of 50 young people to doing five shows a year with an average of over 100 young people at any given audition. The size of the large casts had grown as well. The largest cast during the first year was 50. For the eighth season, the largest cast was 92. More and more requests were coming in for classes and more and more young people wished to participate in many ways. A small space was not able to easily or safely accommodate all the people who wanted to be involved.
At the beginning of the tenth season (1998-9) the company moved to a 6,600 square foot space in Holt. It was also during the tenth season that the Theatre put its first employee on salary, paying Evelyn Weymouth for her combined role as Artistic and Executive Director.
Three years later the company moved during its thirteenth season (2001-2002) to a 14,000 square foot space in the Logan Square Shopping Center in Lansing. (September 11, 2001 fell between auditions and first read for our fall show. Evelyn and Lisa decided, as did many other organizations, that the show must go on. We lit a candle and participated in the national moment of silence during first read.) In 2002 the company hired a full-time Executive Director. In 2003 a full-time Executive Assistant was added to the payroll.
As the decade progressed, an increasingly difficult economy and drastic reduction in funding for the arts caused the company to reduce full time staff to two people, the Artistic Director and Director of Operations. Class Instructors were paid from class fees; Directors and Guild Crew Supervisors were paid only when grant money was available. The company has always been heavily dependent on adult volunteers and continues be be so. At the end of the 2006-2007 season there was another large change for the company: Evelyn retired from her position as Artistic Director, and AECT alumna Miranda Hartmann was hired to take her place. Despite an increasing variety of problems with our space, Miranda kept the program going strong, and began the work of officially codifying the requirements for the Guild Crews.
At the beginning of 2009, in the middle of the company’s twentieth season, the Board of Trustees reluctantly decided to reduce the paid staff again, to a single person. We were now operating with a paid Artistic Director and a large number of volunteers, much as we were ten years before. At the end of 2009, with plummeting finances and trapped in a decaying space, the Board of Trustees voted to enter into a merger agreement with the City of East Lansing.
Since that date All-of-us Express Children’s Theatre has existed as a program run under the Parks, Recreation & Arts department of the City of East Lansing, while the 501(c)(3) company continues to raise money and recuperate.
In May 2013, we lost our Artistic Director again, and experienced a rather hectic year. Evelyn returned to serve as interim Artistic Director for six months (also directing the first two shows of the 25th season as well as overseeing the alumni reunion production of A Christmas Carol) while the hunt for a new Artistic Director continued, and in the end, we were fortunate to have AECT alumna Sarah Willis hired into the role in January 2014. Sarah worked on finishing what Miranda began in laying down the Guild Crew requirements, strengthening the Guild Program as a whole, and creating the Young Playwright’s Festival, a one weekend production in the spring which gives area youth the opportunity to write and produce a play. YPF was a great success, and we look forward to this becoming an annual tradition. Sarah resigned in March 2016.
Awards and Recognition
All-of-us Express has twice received a Thespie Award from the Lansing State Journal, in 1996 received the J.C. Penney Golden Rule Award Certificate of Recognition for community service, and in 2003 was a winner of the MACAA Great Lakes Community Arts Award.
The first Artistic Director of All-of-us Express, Evelyn Weymouth, received the Howard Lancour Award for her spirit of professionalism, dedication, dignity, and service to the theater, the first Community Inclusion Award from the Association for Children’s Mental Health, the Apollo Award from the College of Arts and Letters at Michigan State University, CTAM’s Volunteer Service Award, the Michigan Community Luminary Award, the Governor’s Honor Roll Service Award and a Pulsar Award.
All-of-us Express has received grants from Ronald McDonald Children’s Charity, the Greater Lansing Foundation, Ingham County Hotel/Motel Fund, the City of Lansing General Fund, the Detroit Lion’s Foundation, Frandorson Properties, Lansing’s Federated Cultural Appeal, the Rotary Club of Lansing Foundation, Michigan Council for Arts & Cultural Affairs, Jackson National Life, Target, Builder’s Square, and other businesses and individuals.
The benefits returned to the community by All-of-us Express are showing up in other local theater companies that have recruited our young ‘graduates’ for their productions. Letters from parents attest that our programs are helping children to become team players, treat each other with respect, gain confidence, and learn new skills.
About This Website
The All-of-us Express Children’s Theatre website was created in 1997 and was continuously maintained by Lisa Lees until she handed it over to Morgan Lees in 2015. Prior to 2015, the AECT website consisted entirely of hand-coded HTML. In the beginning the site was created and hosted on a personal linux system using only vi, ftp and gimp; later on Macromedia Dreamweaver was used on a PowerMac as a smarter text editing tool for a remotely hosted site, but the site remained all hand-coded HTML (with a dash of hand-coded PHP) until 2015. The archive site remains intact.