Presenting a Stage for Children to Thrive at Crown Center

Aug 12, 2019 8:45 AM ET

Forty years in the making, the Coterie Theatre at Crown Center continues to expand and foster childhood creativity in the heart of downtown Kansas City, Missouri. 

Since its start in 1979, it has given 13,000 performances and served more than 2.2 million youth with live theater and educational programs. Founders Judith Yeckel and Vicky Lee, two graduate theater students from the University of Missouri-Kansas City, began the organization with the intention of empowering children from all walks of life. 

“We like to think of the Coterie as a community, not just a place,” said Jeff Church, producing artistic director, Coterie Theatre. “As a family destination, our home on the Crown Center campus surrounded by other family-friendly attractions helps us foster a sense of community and inclusion.”

A nationally recognized forerunner in children’s theater, the Coterie has received critical acclaim including Time magazine’s top five U.S. theaters serving families and young audiences and Travel+Leisure magazine's top 10 list of children's theaters. Church credits that success, in part, to the Theatre’s unwavering mission “to break down barriers between races, genders and generations.”

The Coterie’s mission is also embraced by Hallmark, which has provided more than $1 million in grants and sponsorships since its founding, plus another nearly $100,000 by supplementing half of ticket costs for employees and their families to attend performances through the company’s 50/50 program.

“I’m very proud of the work at the Coterie and of Hallmark’s sustained support,” said Meghan Craig, senior writer, Hallmark, and a
new Coterie board member. “Their long-standing efforts to nurture theater education and creative expression inspired me to get involved.”

For its milestone season — and Church’s 29th year as director — the Coterie is expanding its efforts to bring classics to life, while also tackling important social issues. “When it comes to our programming, we aim to break down the traditional notions of what theater for young audiences should be,” explained Church.

This has included two world premieres joining its diverse lineup of plays and musicals: “Becoming Martin”, a production that chronicled the early life of Martin Luther King, Jr., his admittance into Morehouse College at age 15 and the relationship that formed between him and college president Dr. Benjamin Mays; and “Beat Bugs”, a new family musical featuring music by The Beatles.

Beyond the stage, the Theatre continues its impact on the community through outreach programs serving older youth.

“A significant part of our programming is directed toward middle and high school students, which is an age often underserved in the arts,” said Joette Pelster, executive director, Coterie Theatre.

The Coterie has several community outreach programs across Kansas City, including in-school workshops, performance camps, playwriting intensives and touring presentations that educate teens about HIV and STD prevention.

“We pride ourselves in the fact that our outreach programs don’t look a lot like others,” explained Pelster. “Looking ahead, it’s our goal to continue pushing the boundaries of creativity and content.”

Read more in Hallmark’s 2018 Caring in Action Social Responsibility Report.