All-of-us Express Children’s Theatre is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization. Prior to the 2009 agreement made with the City of East Lansing Parks, Recreation & Arts department, the Artistic Director was a 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 organization, and trustees are still elected by the Membership and continue to play an important advisory role to the running of the theater. Since 2009, the theater program has been run as a division of the Parks, Recreation & Arts division of the City of East Lansing, with the Artistic Director employed by the City. All other personnel are either volunteers, or are hired on a contract basis for a particular show, class, or event.
Founding in 1989
All-of-us Express Children’s Theatre began in March 1989. Founder Evelyn Weymouth had been bringing children’s drama to the greater Lansing area, teaching classes, performing, and directing. As she conversed with the parents of her students, she often spoke of her dream to have a theater company that produced theater for children, by children. After encouragement from families, Evelyn eventually announced an organizational meeting. Eighteen people showed up to that first meeting on March 30, 1989, and the company was born.
After a few months of administrative tasks such as writing bylaws and obtaining nonprofit status, auditions for the first production, Winnie-the-Pooh, were held in October 1989. About 25 young people showed up; 17 were cast and All-of-us Express was off and running!
During the first season, Evelyn received a call from the Capitol Library Cooperative saying that they had received a grant to bring entertainment into their 32 libraries. This led to the creation of Storybook Story Theater (SBST), which was well-received and turned into the summer SBST touring group.
For the first five seasons, All-of-us Express did three shows a year and toured SBST. The only deviation was in the summer of 1994, when company costumer and professional clown Doreen Evans put together Clowns at Play, a clown troupe which toured to libraries and festivals in place of SBST that summer.
The sixth season introduced more growth, and the company now produced four shows and three touring groups. In addition to SBST and Clowns at Play, Doreen and Evelyn formed ACTORS (All-of-us Express Children’s Theatre Often Returning Storytellers), which toured to schools during the school day and presented folk tales in story theater fashion.
The seventh and eighth seasons featured five shows and three touring companies, and added studio productions. The studio productions were collaborations with local community theatre Riverwalk Theatre, and were called Riverwalk Express. Each production consisted of two short plays performed at Riverwalk Theatre 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, the company moved from its Frandor location to a new temporary location, on West Saginaw, and began a serious search for a larger, permanent space. The company’s growth had far outpaced its space, with auditions drawing over 100 young people and the largest production topping out at over 90 cast and crew.
In 1998, at the beginning of the tenth season, the company moved to a 6,600 square foot space in Holt. It was also during the tenth season that All-of-us Express 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 again, beginning its thirteenth season in a 14,000 square foot space in Lansing’s Logan Square Shopping Center. September 11, 2001 fell between auditions and first read for the fall show. In alignment with many other organizations, the company leadership decided that the show must go on. Cast and crew lit a candle and participated in the national moment of silence during first read.
2002 – 2009
In 2002, the company hired a full-time Executive Director and added a full-time Executive Assistant to the payroll the following year. As the decade progressed, an increasingly difficult economy and drastic reduction in funding for the arts caused the company to reduce staff, relying more heavily than ever on adult volunteers. At the end of the 2006-2007, Evelyn retired from her position as Artistic Director, and AECT alumna Miranda Hartmann was hired to take her place. Miranda kept the program going strong through challenges with the company’s space, and began 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. AECT was now operating with a paid Artistic Director and a large number of volunteers. At the end of 2009, faced 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.
2009 – present
Since the 2009 agreement, All-of-us Express Children’s Theatre has existed as a program run under the Parks, Recreation & Arts division of the City of East Lansing, while the 501(c)(3) organization continues to manage fundraising and grant writing efforts.
In 2013, Evelyn returned to serve as interim Artistic Director for a few months, directing the first two shows of the 25th season and overseeing the alumni reunion production of A Christmas Carol. AECT alumna Sarah Willis was hired as Artistic Director in January 2014. Sarah continued Miranda’s work on codifying the Guild Crew requirements, strengthening the Guild Program as a whole, and creating the Young Playwrights Festival, (YPF) a one-weekend spring production which gives area youth the opportunity to write and produce a play. Sarah left the company in March 2016, and AECT alumna Liz Cooke was hired as the Artistic Director. Liz remains the Artistic Director and is currently overseeing her sixth season at All-of-us Express.
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.
Show photographs, more information about past seasons, and a more detailed timeline can be found on the archive site.