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The history of
All-of-us Express Children's Theatre

You may also want to look over the list of past shows, past seasons the newsletter archive and the timeline.

Artistic Directors

Evelyn Weymouth, the Theatre's founder and long-time Artistic Director, retired at the end of the 2006-2007 Season. We were fortunate to have Miranda Sue Hartmann, an alumna of the Theatre, be able to step into the role of Artistic Director at that point. Miranda continued as artistic director until May 2013. At that time, Evelyn was invited back for six months to direct the first two shows of the 25th Season, and to aid in the search for a new artistic director. Sarah Willis, also an All-of-us Express alumna, served as artistic director from January 2014 through March 2016.

AECT History: 1989 – 2009

AECT was an independent company for the twenty years between 1989 and 2009. (Here's an old web page about crews, circa 2008.) Please note that many people who had important and formative roles in the company are not mentioned in this brief history.

Company organization

All-of-us Express Children's Theatre is a 501(c)(3) non-profit corporation with a Board of Trustees elected by its membership. Over the years, the company was run on a day-to-day basis by some combination of an Artistic Director (paid from the tenth season on), volunteer office staff, officers appointed by the Board of Trustees, and for a short time, a paid Director of Operations. Everyone else was either a volunteer, or hired on a contract basis for a particular show or class or event. (Many of the people who were hired on a contract basis for a particular job—Director or craft supervisor—were also volunteers in other areas or at other times.)

Company history

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.

Photo of Evelyn Weymouth

Evelyn founded All-of-us Express Children's Theatre and directed many of the company's mainstage shows until retiring in 2007. She wrote Aesop Says, and co-wrote ¡Hola! Cinderella and Young King Arthur with Bill Helder (local director and performer, and a former president of Riverwalk Theatre). Evelyn returned in August 2013 (photo) for six months as interim artistic director, and to direct Treasure Island and Winnie-the-Pooh in 2013 and 2014.

Evelyn began working in youth and adult theater beginning in 1958, with drama degrees from Michigan State University and the University of Minnesota. Active in local theater, Evelyn received Spotlight Theatre's award for Best Character Actress and Best Supporting Actress, the Howard Lancour Award, 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, the Community Theatre Association of Michigan's Volunteer Service Award, the Michigan Community Luminary Award, the Governor's Honor Roll Service Award and a Pulsar Award.

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. At first read we lit a candle and participated in the national moment of silence.) In 2002 the company hired a full-time Executive Director. In 2003 a full-time Executive Assistant was added to the payroll.

However, 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 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. The company was now operating with a paid Artistic Director and a large number of volunteers, much as it had been ten years before. By this time almost all the stores in Logan Square had closed or moved, and AECT felt that it was time it did, also.

Merger with East Lansing

In its August 25, 2009 work session, the East Lansing City Council authorized the City Manager to approve the merger agreement with All-of-us Express. Here is the East Lansing press release about the merger (PDF).

Members and participants knew that for some time we had been looking for a new location for our office and rehearsal space. One of the possibilities that we had explored over the years was use of space in Hannah Community Center in East Lansing. The first mainstage production done by All-of-us Express was staged at then Hannah Middle School in December 1989. We resumed doing shows at Hannah following its conversion into a community center. For the past several years we had done three productions a year, plus various special events, at Hannah.

What did the merger mean?

What it boiled down to was that our theater program—shows, troupes, camps, classes— became an East Lansing program, and the 'artistic director' became an East Lansing employee. Instructors, directors and crew heads were also hired through the City.

All-of-us Express Children's Theater continued to exist as a 501(c)(3) corporation to do fundraising and outreach, and continued to have a Board of Trustees, but the corporation was no longer directly involved in running the theater program. The major focus of the corporation became fundraising to support the theater program, keeping participation costs as low as possible, and providing scholarships and outreach to the Greater Lansing area. Memberships continued to be in the corporation, with benefits and discounts still applied to participation in the theater program.

Why did AECT make such a major change?

We had moved to Logan Square in the fall of 2001. Since then we had been looking without success for a permanent home. Our participation had been declining since that move, and had dipped low enough in recent years that we had had to change how we cast some shows because of smaller than expected turnout at auditions. With the decrease in participation and the changes in the economy, we had to cut back on operations and lay off one of our two employees. (If you kept your eye on the news, you knew that all independent arts and theater programs in Michigan were hurting.) We had to make some change to be able to survive, and to be able to continue providing our theater program to Greater Lansing Area youth. The Board chose the merger so AECT could continue to fulfill its mission as stated at the bottom of this page.

It was the intention of the officers of the company and of the Board of Trustees at that time that the agreement with the City of East Lansing would be reviewed periodically to determine if it continued to be the best way to fulfill the mission and goals of AECT. The hope was that eventually AECT could one day again operate as an independent theater company, in control of its own future.

It is the mission of All-of-us Express Children's Theatre to offer young people of all backgrounds, cultures, and lifestyles the opportunity to produce professional quality plays, study many aspects of the dramatic arts, and develop valuable life skills while providing outstanding entertainment to the community. It is the policy of AECT to provide equal opportunities to all eligible persons without regard to age, color, creed, gender identity, disability, height, membership in any labor organization, national origin, parental status, political identification, race, religion, sex, sexual orientation, or weight.

Content copyright © 1989-2016 by All-of-us Express Children's Theatre.