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TRYPS Institute at Stephens College, a children’s theater company in Columbia, allows children of all ages to learn and experience the art of theater through hands-on experience with professionals. Like genies working their magic, Jill Womack and the TRYPS crew create a whole new world for their young performers.
Jill was an aspiring actress when she received her undergraduate degree in speech and drama from Mizzou. She pursued her graduate degree at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro, and it was in Greensboro that she fell in love with children’s theater. “The kids talk to you on stage,” she says. “I was blown away!” It was the excitement and the energy from the performers and the audience that captivated Jill. Suddenly, it occurred to her how to keep this art form alive, and her vision for TRYPS was born.
Jill founded TRYPS more than 15 years ago and works now as the company’s executive artistic director. She can’t hide her passion when she speaks about her job. She describes how rewarding each day is with sparkles in her eyes and excitement in her voice. Her days are busy, in a good way, and she has the most fun during rehearsals at TRYPS or teaching her classes at Stephens College.
Right now, Jill and the TRYPS team are getting ready for two spring performances. “Skippy Jon Jones,” based on a series of popular children’s books, will appear on the TRYPS stage in April, followed by Disney’s “Aladdin, Jr.” in May. Jill is excited for a new cast to flourish in these performances. “Even if the kids don’t go on with this as a career, I am certain they are benefitting from it,” she says. “Public speaking, leadership, organization…theater is a source for all of these skills.
8 a.m. – The children arrive at the theater. Now, Jill and her crew must get their young performers into costume and prepared for the first show of the day. Crisis alert! One performer hasn’t showed up yet, but the team doesn’t panic. They simply launch into planning mode.
9:20 a.m. – Phew. The last child shows up just in time. Now, everyone to their places.
9:30 a.m. – The day’s first performance of “Aladdin, Jr”. begins.
10:30 a.m. – The reception line following the show leaves the kids feeling like real stars as they meet their excited audience.
11 a.m. – The kids take their lunch break while Jill and her crew prepare for the day’s second show by getting the sets back together, checking on costumes and making sure the props are – uh oh. Aladdin’s lamp ended up in two pieces after the morning show. No worries though, Jill has a fix for everything.
Noon – Today’s second performance of “Aladdin, Jr.” begins.
1 p.m. – The cast has their second reception line of the day, and the TRYPS crew begins prepping for tomorrow’s performances.
2 p.m. – Jill is back at the office checking mail and email and making sure any planning for tomorrow’s performance is done. Once that is done, she’ll do some prep work for the classes she teaches at Stephens College. Her two classes, Children’s Theater Practicum and Plays for Living, let her introduce children’s theater to the lives of her students through hands-on experience in the art form she loves most.
7 p.m. – She is finally home. Maybe she’s pretending to take a break with some TV, but really she is researching other children’s theater companies, forever curious and excited about the opportunities theater can offer to people of all ages.