WARSAW — It’s your sixth-grade year. The long anticipated day has come when you and your classmates file onto the school bus and head to the Wagon Wheel Theatre to watch the holiday musical.
You arrive and are ushered to your seats where just rows behind you another school of sixth graders files by. Over 800 fellow students sit back as the lights dim and the music begins to play. It’s your first time attending a live musical performance. It’s a memory you will never forget.
Since the early 1980s, Wagon Wheel Center for the Arts has offered field trip matinee performances to schools in and around Kosciusko County during our holiday musical. The goal of the field trips is to provide a musical theatre experience to all students in our county at least once in their education and provide students with a common experience and a common memory that unites them. This is accomplished by removing cost barriers to students attending and collaborating with schools to bus thousands of students to the Wagon Wheel each year.
Through a grant from Kosciusko County Community Foundation, Wagon Wheel offers the field trips free to all Kosciusko County sixth graders. To further remove barriers to other grades or school outside the county, all other field trip attendees pay a heavily reduced price of $6 per ticket.
This year, 735 sixth graders in Kosciusko County attended “Elf: The Musical” for free. An additional 4,362 students attended at the reduced rate. Students from Bluffton Middle School, Bremen Elementary Schools, Carroll Middle Schools, Churubusco Elementary School, Coesse Elementary School, Fairfield School, Faith Christian Co-Op, Huntington North High School, Lakeland Christian Academy, Maple Creek Middle School, Metro North Elementary School, Milford Schools, New Prairie Middle Schools, Pierceton Elementary, Sacred Heart, Tippecanoe Valley Middle School, Triton Elementary, Warsaw Community Schools (elementary and Edgewood/Lakeview Middle Schools), Wawasee Middle School, West Noble Elementary School, White’s Jr. and Sr. High School, Whitley County Schools, and several other home school co-ops attended across the seven field trip performances.
“Our students had a wonderful time attending the performance of ‘Elf’ at the Wagon Wheel,” said Andy Streit, a sixth grade teacher at Eisenhower Elementary School. “The thing I like most about this experience is that it gives some of our students an opportunity to attend an event that they may otherwise not be able to. It’s a unique experience for many of our students.”
This year was a special treat as the Wagon Wheel performed “Elf: The Musical” for the first time. All general audience performances were sold out and six of the seven student matinees were also sold out. The story of “Elf” follows Buddy, a human who was raised by elves, as he travels from the North Pole to New York City to find his dad. He arrives in New York City and views the rather negative and depressing city through the optimistic eyes of a child. Buddy’s childlike innocence and Christmas spirit contagiously affect the people he meets in the city and eventually softens the heart of his Grinch of a father.
“The most joyful part of the field trip performances was watching an entire audience react to the story through Buddy’s eyes,” said Elisa Wise, director of donor relations at Wagon Wheel. “Buddy is like a child in a jaded world; but his innocence and belief in the good shine brighter than the negativity we often find in the world as adults.”
Education programs are a fundamental component of Wagon Wheel Centre for the Arts’ mission to unite our community and provide opportunities for students to learn and grow. School field trips to the theatre allow students to experience diversity, relate with each other or with different people, places, and times, all while fostering an understanding and appreciation for the performing arts. Wagon Wheel Centre for the Arts wishes to thank the Kosciusko County Community Foundation for supporting the field trip performances for all sixth graders as well as the schools and parents for helping organize the field trips.