A Stage for All
Monica Pettiford’s Porch Productions youth theater company celebrates its 10th season.
by Vanessa Infanzon
More than 20 years ago, Monica Pettiford staged a sit-in on Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday at Queens University of Charlotte. The silent protest led by Pettiford, then an undergraduate at the liberal-arts university, was successful; it convinced the school’s president to form a task force to find ways for students and faculty to effectively celebrate MLK Day.
Unintentionally, Pettiford also set in motion a series of events that led to the development of Porch Productions Inc., a youth theater production company. Pettiford’s activism in college prompted an introduction to Barbara Ferguson, the founder of Afro-American Children’s Theatre. Through that relationship, Pettiford became familiar with theater and began to learn about the different aspects of the business.
Remembering shows she performed on her grandmother’s porch as a child growing up in Greensboro, Pettiford started Porch Productions in 2011.
The company is now in its 10th season and produces two shows a year, mainly musicals such as The Wiz, Hairspray and Annie. Each production typically involves 40 to 50 youth, ages 4 to 18, and 25 parent volunteers. Most performances are held at Spirit Square.
The nonprofit group partners with Blumenthal Performing Arts, St. Peter’s Episcopal Church, Galilee Ministries of East Charlotte, Forest Hill Church and TRU Spirit Mime for rehearsal space. The company also supports drama clubs at Irwin Academic Center and Cotswold Elementary School.
Comments were edited for brevity and clarity.
What makes for a good day?
Just one more kid running up to us saying they’ve never had this opportunity before and thank you for choosing him/her to be a part of it. The appreciation from a young person is just mind blowing. The number of opportunities are small, specifically for children that are black and brown. Our cast is very diverse.
How do you keep the youth motivated?
They really want to do it — we don’t have to do much. After one show of Porch Productions, we tell the parents, “Get ready, because they’ve been bitten by the bug.” This happens every time — parents will text me four months after a production, “My kid is still singing Annie.” It’s because we give all of them a chance to shine.
What do students in your productions learn?
We’re developing the whole child. We’re training them to be good people — character, integrity, honesty, values. We spend a lot of time in rehearsals teaching those life lessons.
How might parents support their children who are interested in performance art?
Parents can help support their child by exposing them to different things. Take them to see a show, whether it’s community theater, or whether you can get access to tickets through Blumenthal Performing Arts. Once kids see a show, it automatically sparks an interest in them. I think that’s the biggest thing. Take them to see a lot of things — opera, theater, dance, visual arts. They will tell you if that’s what they want to do. . . . If they want to try it and they decide they don’t like it, that’s fine too.
How do you choose a cast?
We’re really just looking for that child who has a desire and wants to creatively be there. You don’t have to be the best singer or dancer or actor. I have an amazing staff who can pull that out of anyone. We had kids who couldn’t even do a box step, and now they want to sign up for dance classes. I send them all to Ms. Jackie at Open Door Studios. SP