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June 17, 2010/FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE / High-res photo available upon request
Media Contact: Marla Carpenter, 770-3337, carpem@uncsa.edu



First of Four Productions Opens This Weekend at Children's Museum


WINSTON-SALEM – Two students from the University of North Carolina School of the Arts (UNCSA) are getting first-hand knowledge of how fast dreams can grow. Anna Rooney and John Bowhers met in November at a faculty retirement party and struck up a conversation about the lack of summer theatre employment in Winston-Salem. They soon discovered a mutual interest in children’s theatre, and now they are the nucleus of a nonprofit children’s theatre company whose first show opens this weekend.

Tab’s Contraption, the premiere performance by Peppercorn Children’s Theatre, opens Saturday (June 18) at the Children’s Museum of Winston-Salem, and is scheduled for four performances through June 26. It will be followed by three additional shows running through August. All performances are free with admission to the museum, which is located at 390 S. Liberty St.  See: http://www.childrensmuseumofws.org/index.html for more information.

Written by Bowhers, Tab’s Contraption is a jazz musical about the whirlwind adventures of a crazy cat and the cat-astrophe that ensues when his kitten-making machine goes haywire.

Wiley Gorn as Tab

Wiley Basho Gorn as Jazz the Cat in Tab's Contraption

Rooney, a graduate student in the Performing Arts Management program of UNCSA’s School of Design and Production, and Bowhers, an undergraduate student in scenic design in the School of Design and Production, had little inkling in November where their common interest would take them. Bowhers mentioned that he had written a play for children, and the collaboration began. “Then we decided if we were going to do a play, we might as well do a few,” Rooney said. “We thought we were going to put on a show and we started a company.”

Following Tab’s Contraption, the company will present Pepper Jam Session on July 2, 3, 23 and 24; A Midsummer Night’s Dream on July 9, 10 and 16; and The BFG A Royal Reading on July 30 and 31 and August 6 and 7. All of the shows are original or were adapted by members of the Peppercorn Theatre company.

Rooney, who is from Rockford, Ill., serves as managing director for Peppercorn Theatre. Bowhers, who is from Virginia Beach, Va., is artistic director. Since November, they have recruited a cast and crew, applied for and received a grant, filed for incorporation as a nonprofit organization, and formed a partnership with the Children’s Museum.

“We had to find a performance space,” Rooney said of the partnership. “We wanted to reach all of the children of Winston-Salem, not just the arts people. So the museum was a good fit.”

The museum’s education director, Christine Simonson, agrees. “Our mission is to provide programming on literature, storytelling and the arts. Anna and John approached us a couple of months ago with a few ideas they had and we saw it as a wonderful partnership,” she said. “They are an energetic and talented group, and we are excited to have them be a part of our summer programming calendar.”

Rooney and Bowhers formed another important partnership. During an intercollegiate retreat, Rooney met Tre Easton, who is studying political science and communications at Wake Forest University. “He said he wanted to do public relations for a nonprofit organization,” Rooney said. “It was perfect.” Easton, who is from Barnesville, Ga., is now public relations manager for Peppercorn.

“He has learned a lot from us about the creative process,” Rooney said of Easton. “And we have learned so much from him about promotion.”

They’ve had to learn fast, and it could have been overwhelming. But Rooney said the company members are supportive of each other, and are optimistic. The first sign of success came at a recent publicity photo shoot when the actor playing Tab the cat – in full costume and makeup – encountered some children on a field trip. “They were so enthusiastic,” Rooney said. “That’s when I knew this was going to work, that the children were going to love it.”

Peppercorn Theatre received a grant from UNCSA’s Semans Art Fund, which provides support for students to pursue innovative projects and performances that benefit the campus community and the school’s audiences. The grant program, founded by Mary D.B.T. Semans and her husband, the late Dr. James H. Semans, provides small stipends for Peppercorn’s ensemble and management team. Easton’s participation is supported by a grant from Wake Forest.


The Peppercorn ensemble includes eight students from UNCSA’s School of Drama class of 2013. They are: Taylor Aldrich of Orlando, Fla.; Wiley Basho Gorn of Woodstock, N.Y.; Alec Grooms of Columbia, S.C.; Steven Kopp of Clemson, S.C.; Molly Nardin of Richmond, Va.; Ryan Pater of Chapel Hill; Sydney Shepherd of Hickory; and Timothy Thompson of Canton, Mich.


Leo Hurley, who received a Bachelor of Music from UNCSA last month, is Peppercorn’s composer. He is from Rollinsford, N.H.


Students and alumni from UNCSA’s School of Design and Production compose the company’s crew.  They include: Liz Allmon, scene painter, from Richmond, Va.; Sarah Aslpach, stitcher, from Washington, D.C.; Katie Dill, scene painter, from Springfield, Mo.; Stephen Edwards, production manager, from Denver, Colo.; Shawn “Pinky” Estell, associate technical director, from Spokane Valley, Wash.; Leigh-Ann Friedel, scene designer, from Marlton, N.J.; Kate Friedenberg, properties artisan, from Winston-Salem; Kris Julio, properties director, from Torrance, Calif.; Jordan Rickenbacher, stitcher, from Marysville, Ohio; Jeff Russell, sound designer, from Houston, Texas; Corinne Serfass, costume designer, from Winston-Salem; Bridget Van Dyke, associate technical director, from Charlotte; and Lauren Wilde, make-up artist, from Peachtree City, Ga.


Adam Taylor, a student from Greensboro who attends Radford University, is lighting designer.


Next up on the Peppercorn schedule will be Pepper Jam Session, an interactive variety show, followed by William Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, adapted by Bowhers and Kopp. A classical tale of mystery, magic, love and laughter, A Midsummer Night’s Dream features members of the ensemble as the Rude Mechanicals, a traveling theatre troupe. Completing the season will be A Royal Reading of The BFG which features Aldridge as the Queen of England reading Roald Dahl’s tale.


In addition to the performances, Peppercorn provides free workshops at the museum several times a week.


Peppercorn has no definite plans beyond this summer, but Rooney hopes to continue providing summer employment for artists. With two years left in her graduate studies, she has time to grow her dream. “I can see this continuing and growing, branching out,” she said, adding that she would love to continue with Peppercorn after she graduates. “I will be here forever, as long as it will continue to happen.”


The Children’s Museum opened in 2004 with the mission “to create a compelling destination for our community to play and learn by experiencing literature, storytelling and the arts.” The target audience is children up to 8 years old, their families, caregivers and educators. The museum welcomes 70,000 visitors a year.

The University of North Carolina School of the Arts is the first state-supported, residential school of its kind in the nation. Established as the North Carolina School of the Arts by the N.C. General Assembly in 1963, UNCSA opened in Winston-Salem (“The City of Arts and Innovation”) in 1965 and became part of the University of North Carolina system in 1972. More than 1,100 students from high school through graduate school train for careers in the arts in five professional schools: Dance, Design and Production (including a Visual Arts Program), Drama, Filmmaking, and Music. UNCSA is the state’s only public arts conservatory, dedicated entirely to the professional training of talented students in the performing, visual and moving image arts. UNCSA is located at 1533 S. Main St., Winston-Salem. For more information, visit www.uncsa.edu/span>.