Nitsch Theatre delivers performing arts education for kids

By Holly Eitenmiller For Chronicle Media

A Nitsch Theater Arts participant since 2014, Addie Bigger, 13, portrays Ursula in the group’s 2017 presentation of Disney’s Little Mermaid. Bigger has traveled to four different states as part of Nitsch, including a trip to New York City to perform on the Navy aircraft carrier, the USS Intrepid. (Photo courtesy of Anthony Bigger)

What began with a handful of students at a church in Eureka, has become a theater company of more than 150 children hailing from three counties who perform locally as well as in other states.

Founded in 2015 by Kelleen Nitsch, the Nitsch Theatre Arts provides its “Stage Kids” with stage, vocal and auditioning skills through a collaboration of skilled artists whose talents range from dance to cooking.

NTA is governed by a board of directors who also are skilled artists; Janet Albertson, Nichole Fauser, Marie Harpham, Carl Williams, and Adrianne Yoder.

“We have teachers who are employed and degreed and have worked professionally,” Nitsch said. “We offer many programs and workshops, dance, music, it depends on the needs and interests of the community.”

In the short time since its inception, NTA has developed partnerships in Tremont, Mackinaw, Washington, Bloomington, Peoria and Eureka to bring opportunities to somewhat remote areas. Eureka College allows NTA to utilize its Pritchard Theater facility.

Crossroads United Methodist Church in Washington, Sampson Street Arts Center in Tremont, and Northwoods Mall in Peoria are a few of the other locations in which NTA meets.

“These kids in the rural communities, their parents can’t always take them to Peoria,” Nitsch said. “We want to bring this to where the kids are, and we don’t turn anyone away.”

Stage Kids range in age from toddlers to 21-year-olds, and are provided with ample locations and opportunities to regularly participate in the many activities involved in theater.

Some learn set design and building, others develop stage makeup skills, as well as dance, voice, percussion and even cooking. Four Teaching Artists share their knowledge and experience with the kids.

Nyk Sutter-Downs was born in Peoria, but traveled to New York City where he attended the American Musical and Dramatic Academy. He received instruction from Broadway star Catherine Cox, among others.

Nitsch holds a degree in English and Theater and has taught numerous arts-based programs in public and private schools. Among her previous employers is the Walt Disney Company.

Her daughter, and NTA teaching artist, Taylor Hubbartt earned a bachelor’s degree in theater arts from the University of Florida and previously was employed by Busch Gardens in Tampa Bay.

Her husband is E Executive Chef James Hubbart, who teaches culinary skills at the restaurant’s Peoria location.

Addie Bigger of Tremont has been with NTA since it began, and has participated in Hubbart’s classes.

“The cooking class is ‘Food is Art’ and we actually go to Childers for cooking class,” Bigger said. “It’s pretty cool to be in a professional kitchen that’s used every day, and learn to work with the same things the chef uses.”

Among the recipes the students have learned are gourmet risotto, Eggs Benedict and macaroons. Bigger is also a member of NTA’s Rising Stars, a group of Stage Kids who perform a variety of songs ranging from Broadway hits to modern rock.

With Rising Stars, Bigger has traveled to Florida, Missouri and New York. The group performed in New York City aboard the Navy’s aircraft carrier, the USS Intrepid.

Stage makeup, including “bearding”, is among the numerous theatrical arts Nitsch Theatre Arts teaches its young members. In a recent production of Disney’s “Mulan”, many actors required such makeup to portray Japanese Imperial soldiers. (Photo courtesy of Nitsch Theatre Arts)

Like many of the Stage Kids, Bigger participates in a variety of practices and has learned acting strategies, stage makeup and design, dance and voice.

“In theater and musical show choir, you have to be really flexible in different places. In the different places we perform, the stages are really different, so we either have to expand or become more compact,” Bigger said. “We learned that if someone forgets a line, to just keep going and don’t pause, just keep going and roll with the punches. And man makeup. We were taught how to draw eyebrows and beards on each other.”

Nitsch said NTA will soon be hosting workshop on other forms of stage makeup, including cuts and bruises. Along with teaching by experience, NTA also provides its Stage Kids with opportunities to earn awards and recognition.

Eve Yoder and Azaria Garvin competed in state and national theater competitions, both earning Superior rankings.

“It’s about providing opportunities,” Nitsch said. “We try to make it as economic as possible. One of our opportunities is to expose the kids to arts and culture and right now we’re working on taking them to London and France.”

To learn more about NTA, including advocacy, upcoming performances and workshop opportunities, visit the group’s website at



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