This article was published in The Appalachian.

As budget cuts continue nationwide and the arts become less prevalent in elementary schools, it’s increasingly important to find new ways to expose children to art, music and theatre.

In part, that’s the mission of the Theatre and Dance Department’s Appalachian Young People’s Theatre (AYPT), founded in 1972.

Each spring, students cast in AYPT productions take a child-friendly production on a tour of Western North Carolina elementary schools.

The productions are interactive, giving over 7,000 kids the chance to sing, dance and act along with the cast.

“It is absolutely more important than ever that we, as ambassadors, take the arts into schools,” theatre professor Teresa E. Lee said.

Lee has served as AYPT’s artistic director since 1988.

This year’s production, “Drum Song of Africa: Choriato’s Journey,” is an original collaboration by Lee, local musician Shawn M. Roberts and assistant dance professor Sherone Price.

“Drum Song” tells the story of Choriato, a young boy in a fictitious African village who can hear the songs of animals. In addition to audience participation, the production incorporates storytelling, dance, masks and puppetry.

The origins of “Drum Song” are slightly unusual – it started with a song, not a script. Roberts remembered a snippet of an African song and from there, the story grew.

“We did not begin with a written script,” Lee said. “We started with an idea.”

“Drum Song” has already made stops at schools in Ashe, Burke and Watauga Counties. The tour will continue throughout the spring and may veer out of Western North Carolina. Plans are in the works to perform at a school in the Raleigh area.

This year’s AYPT cast will also present three matinees of the performance on Appalachian’s campus.

“Drum Song of Africa” will be presented at the I.G. Greer studio theatre April 1 from 7:30 p.m. to 9 p.m., April 2 from 2 p.m. to 3:30 p.m., and April 3 p.m. from 2 p.m. to 3:30 p.m.

Although all AYPT productions are written and produced for children, adults often enjoy them as well, Lee said.
“That’s what I love about the on-campus performance. It’s multigenerational,” she said. “You can see how the story plays to all ages.”

Lee added that often, AYPT is a chance for overstressed college students to “act like a kid again.”

Tickets to the matinee performances are $10, $8 and $6 and can be purchased at the I.G. Greer studio box office during the week or one hour prior to the show. The box office is open from 2 p.m. to 5 p.m. Monday, Wednesday and

Friday and from 12 p.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday and Thursday.

Tickets can also be purchased by phone at (828) 262-3063. Group rates are available by calling (828) 262-8342.