The School Play, Reinvented

How a Barrington non-profit is creating little stars


Kirsten Davis, business manager of Arts Alive!, is so committed to engaging the more than 500 Barrington children her organization serves, it literally spills out of her. Arts Alive!, a non-profit, charitable organization, was formed in 2009 in partnership with Barrington elementary and middle school PTO’s to bring school plays to the kids in the community. Organized by professional directors, set-designers, stage-hands, costumedesigners and other artists from the area; the program puts no financial or administrative burden on the school district while employing local professionals who have specialized experience in the theater.

The result is nothing short of impressive. The image one might conjure up of school play fare – ramshackle cardboard sets and kids in their parent’s old clothing – is completely dismantled here, and children develop their acting chops as an extension of the school day. “The best part for the kids is that it’s part of the school experience,” explains Davis. “So we get kids who show up who might otherwise not. We have boys, which isn’t always so common. And it carries through over the years so we see them develop and find this as being their ‘thing’.”

From the first production of The Wizard of Oz, which included 100 students, to the recently completed Aladdin, which included 143 first through third graders, Arts Alive! has given Barrington children a high-quality performing arts experience that is deeply community oriented. As interest has expanded, so has the program. “We don’t make any money, that’s for certain,” says Davis. “We have 13 volunteers on the board of trustees who make sure our finances comply with State and Federal laws as we maintain our non-profit status. But, we have added an earned-income arm to help defray costs by holding additional classes outside the school for kids who are interested in something more, in adding to the experience.”

Arts Alive! subleases part of the Peacock and Parade Arts School in Barrington Center, which provides a studio for dance, music and acting lessons. A summer camp, which hires local high-school interns, is also offered. All income generated from these additions to the program is pumped directly back into it. Staff varies from production to production, and there is a transparent relationship between the Arts Alive! organization and the schools and parents it serves. To continue to create that community dynamic is the mission of the program. “Really, this is a civic response to a public need. The talent in this area has literally come out of the woodwork,” says Davis.

Upcoming Arts Alive! productions include will The Musical Adventures of Flat Stanley put on by the Sowams School, followed by a Broadway Review at the Hampton Meadow’s school, which boasts the largest cast to date of 155 children. Any questions about the program can be directed to Kirsten Davis at 401-258-1180 or