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When Katrina Eicher began teaching at what is now Elizabethtown Community and Technical College, students were offered only a one-credit hour course in theater.
Now the college offers a four-credit hour course each spring semester and claims its own theater group.
Eicher, professor of communication and theater, founded Toy Box Theatre in 1998 as part of two classes offered for theater and production, covering all aspects of the craft.
“Everybody is involved in most everything,” Eicher said. “But everyone gets a chance to act.”
Toy Box Theatre was not always a part of the class, she said. Originally the class was a three-credit hour course, but later an hour production segment was added and the theater became part of the two classes she teaches.
The courses are offered each spring.
“We really didn’t have the students to do it more often than that,” she said.
The classes and theater were created to fill a need for acting opportunities, Eicher said. The courses are transferable credits, too, she said.
The theater also had to have a name, and when she found a big box to store supplies in, she decided on Toy Box Theatre since they would be doing children’s theater.
Students in her classes express appreciation for Eicher’s work creating the courses and theater.
“She’s very sweet and smart and has a very great vision for what she does here,” student Amber Wiseman, of Elizabethtown, said.
Toy Box Theatre also is a chance to bring the community together and showcase what ECTC has to offer in the way of performing arts, Wiseman said.
With so many budget cuts affecting the arts, Eicher’s courses and Toy Box Theater provide opportunities for those seeking involvement in the performing arts, Kyle Kennedy, a Bardstown student, said.
“It’s here if you look for it,” Kennedy said.
When first deciding on starting the theater, Eicher had a lot of considerations to think about.
“It had to be something that was mobile,” she said.
Children’s theater seemed a good fit because it allowed actors to be silly and props were easier to come by because they could be toys or simple everyday items that represent something else, she said.
“Part of our goal is to spark their imagination so they will play,” Eicher said. “And not play with things as they are but use their imagination.”
The professor also enjoyed providing productions for children.
“I think kids are very, very funny and so appreciative as audiences,” she said.
Student Shonda Wilson called Eicher’s decision to do children’s theater instead of adult drama “an amazing idea” because it allowed the cast to have fun and at the same time provide fun for others.
In fact students credited Eicher with creating the appeal of the course, particularly the fun aspect.
Kayla Peters, of Cecilia, took the class for fun and said she enjoyed it and professor Eicher’s teaching style.
“She’s very laid back,” Peters said. “She’s really passionate in what she does.”
Eicher is also serious about the subject of theater, too, and dedicated, Peters said.
“She wants us to be dedicated, too,” she said.
“She's amazing,” Wilson said. “I love coming to this class. I love getting up in the morning and Ms. Eicher is the reason why. She’s the reason this class is so much fun.”
Wilson also called the class her “de-stressor” class.
Kennedy made a similar statement about how fun the class is.
“No matter how bad anything else is going, there’s so much positive energy in this class,” he said.
Teaching the class and directing each spring production, Eicher has seen the class and theater evolve.
“The first time we did it we actually went to Morningside Elementary,” she said.
“Seuss-a-Rama” was the first production for Toy Box Theatre. Since then they’ve performed 12 more.
From 1998 to 2010, Toy Box Theatre actors have played to more than 7,450 people. The number of performances varies from year to year.
In 2000, for instance, Toy Box Theatre held 10 performances of their production of “Give and Take,” but in 2011 they held three performances of that multicultural play. The children’s plays are performed for ECTC students with some performances opened to the public.
Tickets for this year’s production cost $1.50 for students and $2 for general admission.
“We want to keep it cheap,” she said.
Funding for productions is very limited.
“Most of the time we do it for under $200,” Eicher said.
Those funding limitations haven’t held back Eicher or Toy Box Theatre productions yet.
“It’s totally drama on the dime,” Eicher said. “But I like the dime.”
Robert Villanueva can be reached at (270) 505-1743.