by Stacey Seaman, Education Director, BlackBox Foundation

Former U.S. Education Secretary William Bennett once said, “The arts are an essential element of education, just like reading, writing, and arithmetic…music, dance, painting and theater are all keys that unlock profound human understanding and accomplishment.”

A recent evening spent with the students and volunteers at the BlackBox Foundation would indicate they agree with this quote.

The historic Woman’s Club building – the new home for the BlackBox Theatre – bustled with activity. While 20 kids sang and danced onstage during a rehearsal for the kids’ musical “Junie B. Jones,” several volunteers worked to change the black theater flats from a recent teen production of “The Addams Family” to cheerful yellow and purple for the Junie B. show. Jacob Hope, a local musician and private lesson teacher, was touring the space in preparation to start teaching drum lessons for the organization. Another group of parent volunteers was setting up tables to sell homemade goods during shows, as well as sorting lawn decorations. As the kids’ rehearsal wrapped up, the teen improv group piled into the space from its rehearsal in a different location.

The chaos seemed strangely well-organized and was overseen by BlackBox Executive Director Ken Ferguson. “It’s really all in a day’s work,” observed Ferguson. “When you run as many simultaneous programs for kids and adults as we do, you get some overlap of activities.”

A brief glance at recent BlackBox activities shows that Ferguson wasn’t exaggerating. In its 2017-18 season, which ends the last weekend of July, the organization has produced or is in the process of producing: two teen plays, a teen musical, a youth play and a musical, a Christmas radio musical written by a local author, an adult community theater musical and a play in conjunction with Central Arizona College, monthly improv comedy shows for teens and adults, a Ten-Minute Play Competition in conjunction with the Casa Grande Arts and Humanities Commission, a local rock band night, two edgier late-night plays, a teen summer camp musical and a kids summer acting camp and a staged reading and musical production with another local arts organization, the Pinal County Alternative Arts. That’s in addition to a full schedule of acting, improv and singing classes.

Although that schedule seems pretty full, now that BlackBox has found a home in the Woman’s Club, Ferguson indicated that maintaining and expanding the production and education schedule is a priority for the arts organization.

“We’re getting ready to launch our 2018-19 season, and we’re pretty excited about it,” explained Ferguson. “In addition to producing a full contingent of plays, musicals and camps for kids, teens and adults, we are revamping our education curriculum to make sure that all of our classes correspond with the National Core Arts Standards for theater. We want to make sure that anyone who takes a class with us knows that they are getting the absolute best instruction available.”

In addition to updating curriculum, one of the long-term goals of BlackBox is to provide community members with a permanent location to experience all forms of art. The Woman’s Club is envisioned as a place for people to come together to experience and celebrate various cultures and the arts. To produce the upcoming season of shows and classes, the BlackBox plans to maximize use of the Woman’s Club and turn the building into a Community Arts Center.

Intentions are to remodel the interior of the space to make it more conducive to hosting art events. Currently, the Woman’s Club has a small built-in stage at one end, and other than that, is simply a large open space. Through extensive semi-permanent renovations, the stage will be extended, curtains and a tech booth will be added, and lighting, sound, and tiered seating will be updated. Through work with a local architect, plans are to turn the interior into a flexible space to host theater, music, dance, art exhibitions, rehearsals, meetings, classes, workshops and more. This would enable the space to be used by a variety of local organizations with a minimum amount of effort to change the space over for different uses.

All of this, of course, costs money. To pay for the remodeling, the BlackBox has broken it up into phases. A successful capital campaign that will partially pay for the first stage was recently conducted, which includes working on the electric for the building and upgrading the theater lighting capabilities. For future phases of the project, grants are being sought, as well as donations. “What people may not realize,” explains Ferguson, “is that when we fundraise, we aren’t just trying to fund our current educational and artistic programs, but we are frequently focused on projects that will enable us to create better art for the future.”

Though BlackBox calls the Woman’s Club home, it also partners with several other community organizations to use the space, including the Arts and Humanities Commission, the Casa Grande Fine Arts Association, CG Mosaic, Zonta International, Friends of the Library, Casa Grande Quilting Association, and Pinal County Alternative Arts.