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ECU students prepare Longleaf pine seedlings for distribution to schoolchildren as part of an outreach program connected to the ECU Storybook Theatre’s presentation of “The Secret Garden.” Pictured are, left to right, Jessie Burkart, Hannah Rivers, Tim Ames and Cameron Buck. (Photos by Cliff Hollis)


ECU Storybook Theatre promotes nature through arts

March 29, 2012

By Jeannine Manning Hutson
ECU News Services

Children seeing the East Carolina University Storybook Theatre’s production of “The Secret Garden” on Friday will take away more than just a memory of Frances Hodgson Burnett’s classic story come to life on stage. Each child will take home a Longleaf pine seedling to plant in his own garden or yard.

ECU’s Arts Smart series is sponsoring “The Secret Garden” for Pitt County Schools students on Friday and ECU’s Family Fare is presenting the performance at 7 p.m. Friday at Wright Auditorium.

“The Secret Garden” offers a fresh look at the power of healing and the joy of selflessness as orphaned Mary Lennox struggles with her new life in England.

Lennox overcomes adversity through perseverance and dedication in order to restore harmony in the life of her afflicted cousin, Colin. Together they discover the magic of the robin, the strength in belief and the hope of renewal.

The story’s message has inspired the ECU students, faculty and staff involved in the production to find ways to share this hope of renewal with the community in other exciting ways, said Patch Clark, the show’s director. The play is aimed at a younger audience with school children grades kindergarten through fifth grade coming to campus for the Arts Smart performance.

Clark said she wanted to find a way to give the children an example of how to nurture and help plants grow.
ECU student Tim Ames carries of box of supplies from the N.C. Forest Service for the Storybook Theatre outreach project. To his right is ECU theatre and dance professor Patch Clark, director of the Storybook Theatre. Pictured in the center is Alton Perry, information and education outreach coordinator with the N.C. Forest Service.

“‘The Secret Garden’ is a wonderful way to celebrate theater and nature and, through our extended partnership with N.C. Forrest Service, helps us involve children in an exciting educational and artistic outreach experience,” said Clark.

The class contacted the N.C. Forest Service’s outreach coordinator Alton Perry about the working with the production. The forest service is working to revitalize the Longleaf pine throughout the state, he said.

“There’s a push across the South to restore the Longleaf pine ecosystem,” said Perry. Once the region from the Atlantic Ocean to Texas had 90 million acres of pines in forest land; then the settlers came and began cutting down trees for building houses and ships and today there’s approximately three million acres of pines. “That ecosystem is very diverse. This is a great way to encourage students and their families to plant and restore Longleaf pines in our state,” he said.

Clark’s Youth Theatre II class created a study guide relating to the play for classrooms coming to see the show. The study guide has activities, lessons and helpful articles integrating “The Secret Garden” with subjects such as history, literature, art and science. The children will also receive a North Carolina Forest Service poster about Longleaf pines.

Perry delivered the 2,350 donated Loblolly and Longleaf pine seedlings to theater students at the Erwin Building Thursday morning. The students then individually packaged the seedlings for distribution Friday to teachers attending the daytime performance. Seedlings will also be available on a first-come, first-served basis at the ticketed Friday night performance.

“The NC Forest Service appreciates the interest and the opportunity to work with ECU’s Theatre and Dance students on this project,” said Perry. “What a cool way to educate and promote our natural resources through the use of performing arts.”

Brian R. Haines, public information officer for the NCFS, worked with Perry to provide information about the Longleaf pine for the study guide.

“The Longleaf pine was once a major part of the eastern North Carolina ecosystem, and now has been replaced by other species,” said Haines. “Our work with the Longleaf pine has multiple positive results. We get to help return our ecosystem to a healthier state, it’s great for the animals that live in our region, and there are economic benefits to those who grow the pine as a renewable resource.”

Helping the students with project was Michael Crane, interim associate dean of research in the College of Fine Arts and Communication. He manages the S. Rudolph Alexander Performing Arts Series, Family Fare series, and Arts Smart Series; his office provided the funding to purchase the plastic sleeves for the seedlings.

“This joint effort will have a positive impact to our community,” Crane said.

The ECU Storybook Theatre troupe will travel on Saturday to the Marine Corps Air Station Cherry Point Station Theater for a 3 p.m. show for military families.  Those children, however, will not receive the seedlings because of base regulations.

Tickets for the Family Fare production of “The Secret Garden” are available by calling 1-800-ECU-ARTS.

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