Life Training in Disguise
“There are so many things that theatre teaches that are lessons everyone needs in life.” explains Meredith Farren and Susannah Linnett, sisters, co-producers, managers and visionaries behind Silvermoon Children’s Theatre. “Through the process of auditions, weeks and weeks of rehearsals, making friendships, following rules, letting loose and not being afraid to laugh at themselves when they make mistakes, we have seen kids stretch and grow and excel at things that might not be in their wheelhouse. But they are given a safe place to try and try again with encouragement from their theatre family. We hope that through this process they will gain the confidence to do the hard things outside of the theatre on their way to being successful in life.”
The beauty of this mission is how it has become a reality for so many of the theatre’s participants. April McCright, mother of David and Mark McCright, who have both been on the Silvermoon stage shared, “David learned the value of hard work and being prepared. He learned to respect other people, to be patient, and that every person is important for a job to succeed. Mark learned that he does have a voice. He gained self-confidence and found that he could have fun in front of people.” McCright recalls, “There was a show that David auditioned for that he was not chosen for. I remember how disappointed he felt when he found out that he didn’t make it. I was not sure if he would try again. However, he was not disappointed for long. He was determined to be successful and make Ms. Susannah and Ms. Meredith proud! When he was able to audition again, he worked on his monologue for weeks, making sure it was perfect. He walked into auditions with a confidence that he did not have in previous auditions. He was determined and ready for the audition.” David’s hard work paid off, and he was given the role of the white rabbit in Alice in Wonderland.
Farren and Linnett’s father, Chief Justice of the Sixth Court of Appeals, Josh Morriss, and their mother Diana Morriss, opened Silvermoon on Broad in September 2011 as an event center downtown. Josh is a lifelong resident of Texarkana and has always had a love for theatre and a dream of bringing life back to the downtown area. When doing the renovations, the couple decided to put a theatre within the Silvermoon on Broad space. This theatre was destined to become home to Silvermoon Children’s Theatre. “My parents run the event center and own the buildings, and Susannah and I run the Children’s Theatre and rent the space we use from them,” shares Farren. The Silvermoon Hotel once claimed this downtown property, and the Silvermoon on Broad was named in homage to the unique history of the space.
One of Linnett’s most treasured childhood memories is the time she spent working in theatre alongside her dad. Together, they built sets for TexRep and worked backstage. She later got her Bachelor of Fine Arts in Theatre Performance from Baylor University and worked for professional theaters in Dallas, including Dallas Children’s Theatre and Theatre Three. While Linnett put theatre on hold for a bit to grow her family, she continued to build props for local productions. At the same time, Farren’s daughter, Abby, was getting interested in theatre, performing in a couple of stage shows in Texarkana. So, with this family’s shared passion and the perfect location, their doors and hearts were wide open to the opportunity of creating Silvermoon Children’s Theatre! Linnett shared, “I’ve always wanted to be involved in doing theatre, but being a mother came first. Once we realized that we could use Silvermoon as our home base, I knew it would be something my kiddos and I could do together. Working with my sister, parents and niece was a perk!”
Opening the theatre has truly been a family affair. “I completely enjoy working with my sister, who is patient and loving, stays calm under pressure, has specific ideas about how she wants things to look and knows how to communicate those thoughts well. She knows how to work with me and my craziness as we work together in this symbiotic dance of knowing the places we work best and what we can be successful doing,” Farren said. “Susannah is the Executive Director, which means she is in charge, even though I like to be bossy. She does all the blocking and choreography and sets the overall design and direction of the show, in set, costumes, lighting, etc. She also keeps up with the website and does all our graphic design. I get to work behind the scenes. I do the scheduling, list making, keeping up with accounting books, ticketing, lobby/patron experience, headshots and headshot boards and most of our social media presence.”
“We also have the great gift of being able to work with our parents in this endeavor,” Farren continues. Always willing to help SCT shine, the girls’ mother, Diana, also known as “Ms. Honey,” has become Seamstress and Musical Director. Ms. Honey has come up with the most beautiful costumes, including the beautiful ‘coat of many colors’ for Joseph in the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat. “She has such a gift of working with fabric and always makes our actors look amazing. She’s a dream!”
Linnett’s dreams of set design are brought to life by their father. As the ‘set guy’ he is the one who comes up with creative solutions, keeping in mind budget and the size parameters of the theatre’s stage. “He helps with many technical issues too,” Farren says, “such as focusing lights and figuring out special effects. He’s a genius!” Anything the girls need done, their parents are always there to help. Farren lovingly claims, “They are the real MVPs of this operation!”
Silvermoon has brought much joy over the years to both the children participating and Texarkana’s residents by producing and bringing a combination of musicals and plays, some purchased, and some adapted in house from classic stories, such as Godspell, Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, A Christmas Story, Annie, Pollyanna, You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown, Into the Woods, Shrek and their most recent and 21st main-stage production of Clue: On Stage. In August, they will begin auditions for their upcoming show, Legally Blonde, Jr. Auditions are generally open for kids in Kindergarten through 12th grades, but the age range may narrow if the subject matter is better suited for older kids. For musicals, the children are asked to prepare a section of a song to sing a cappella that highlights their voice range and personality. Also, for a musical audition, they walk the kids through a pitch matching exercise so they can determine how well they can hear a note and match it with their voices. “We want kids to be able to answer questions, take direction and have fun. It is not about having a perfect audition,” Farren shares, “but about being able to roll with the punches and handle the experience with confidence, even if they are nervous.”
Silvermoon also offers summer camps. Kids will put in about 25 hours of training and playing during a week of camp and learn the entire process of how to put a show together in only one week. They then have public performances at the end of the week to show off all they have learned. It is fast and furious, but can give kids a taste of the work that has to go into a main-stage show with only a week’s commitment. The week-long camps are for ages seven to fifteen. This summer, the week-long options are The Grunch, which is a musical inspired by The Grinch Who Stole Christmas, and the non-musical option, Survivor: All Stars. They also offer Production Camp, which is for older kids finishing seventh grade to kids finishing twelfth grade, who have had theatre experience. Production camps are two weeks, and, in that time, they put together a full-length show. This summer’s production camp show offering is Snoopy: The Musical. For more information or to register your child, please visit the SCT website at silvermoonkids.com.
“Silvermoon Children’s Theatre is a wonderful place run by two amazing women!” shares Jamie Martin, parent to Joshua Martin. Joshua has been with Silvermoon for over two years now. “Meredith and Susannah expect the kids to work hard, which teaches a great life lesson at an early age. They are also their biggest cheerleaders! We have been nothing but happy with our experience at SCT. Every time we watch him in a performance, we are so impressed with how much he has grown both socially and theatrically.”
This family’s shared passion for the theatre, under the leadership of Meredith Farren and Susannah Linnett, will be part of their incredible legacy. The obvious benefits children receive as a result of participating in theatre arts are increased self-confidence, improved communication skills, and strong self-expression. However, there are less dramatic benefits as well, such as teamwork and the ability to work through challenges to reach a goal and to receive and accept critiques. As Farren and Linnett often say, “Live theatre is just life… make it count. You live it and then it’s gone.”