Amarillo Little Theater (ALT) has been in production since 1927. It is one of the nation’s longest continuously running theaters. All productions are conducted by volunteers in the community. The theater hosts mainstage productions as well as academy productions.
Jason Crespin has been involved in the theater since he was 15. He is now the academy director of ALT. Crespin’s passion for theater and his devotion to his students’ success promotes a sense of community within ALT.
Celeste Paulson: How did you get involved in ALT?
Jason Crespin: I didn’t want to major in theater; I wanted to keep it as my passion. I was actually going to be an eye doctor. I took anatomy and physiology at Amarillo College and realized how much I hate science, so I switched and randomly picked mass communications. I ended up falling in love with it and graduated with my actual degree in advertising and public relations. It’s crazy because now I’m a theater director, but it’s come in handy in marketing our shows.
After college, luckily, a part-time position at ALT became available. Then it turned into a full-time position, and now I’ve just celebrated my 10 years as ALT staff.
I’ve always loved ALT, and I think that’s the biggest reason I’ve stayed in Amarillo: because it’s a sense of family and a sense of pride and a place for people to share their talent. All these volunteers come to give their time. No one gets paid. It’s just a family environment.
I see myself staying here for quite some time. I love it here and I love ALT.
Paulson: Tell me about the academy.
Crespin: Our academy is about school and weekend venue where kids cantake classes in theater, dance or vocals. We offer classes to some as young as three in dance, and we offer some adult classes as well. to celebrate our 25 years. We are an after-
Our students have three opportunities to be on stage a year. They get to audition for those shows as well as one main stage collaboration show where our adult program collaborates with our academy.
We’re training tomorrow’s talent today. We’re teaching them how to work together, speak in front of a group of people and how to emote. So they’re getting all these life skills that kids don’t necessarily have in a regular classroom setting.
We have kids that have gone on to do theater, but we also have kids that have gone on to be teachers and kids that have gone on to be activists. They keep telling me they couldn’t do their job if it hadn’t been for ALT, where they learn to speak in front of a crowd and how to prepare and memorize and work as a team.
I think those life skills are way more important than if we ever have someone performing on Broadway or win a Tony or an Oscar. We’d love that – if one of our kids went off to be a huge star – but we definitely don’t need that to feel successful.
We have over 650 kids learning about theater. We’re not only training them, but almost training their family to appreciate the arts. We have family members who have now auditioned for shows, are board members and become regulars at the shows. As they leave our theater and our classes, they’re becoming positive community members. They’re going to go out in our community to support and appreciate the arts more.
Paulson: What do you love about teaching?
Crespin: I think the one thing I love the most is seeing when a student has that lightbulb moment. When you’re in a rehearsal, they can struggle with a character and then they turn that corner and they get it. That is such a cool moment.
I also love when they catch the “theater bug,” which is when they have their first show and they hear that applause for the first time. They light up. I love when we have little kids and they have their first bow and they’re soaking it in. They feel like a star. I love establishing relationships with our kids
The academy is a safe haven for our kids. Maybe they’re the weird kid in school, but they aren’t the weird kid at ALT. Everyone is weird here. It’s just great to provide a place they can feel safe and positive, and that they belong somewhere.
Paulson: What drives your passion for theater?
Crespin: Our students inspire me daily with their passion for the arts. I’m passionate about being the best role model I can be and the best advocate for ALT and for local community theater. When I go to New York, I always see at least one show and I get inspired every time I see a show. When I come home, I think, “If I’m doing that in our community, am I providing a sense of storytelling that sparks something in the audience?”
Theater inspires me to inspire others through theater. If I can inspire someone to think a certain way, feel a certain way, be more positive or to challenge their thoughts, then I’ve done my job right. It drives my passion to keep doing what I’m doing.
Paulson: How does ALT influence the community?
Crespin: I think it is a huge, positive influence in our community. Not only does it encourage our patrons to come experience live entertainment theater but also quality theater. It’s insane that we have local talent pulling off this amazing amount of production value.
It provides a space for people who want to be entertainers or actors. It provides them a venue to come perform, to be storytellers, to practice their craft and to become a second family.
We have actors who have struggled through life, but they can depend on their ALT family for support. I think it makes the community stronger and better. It’s a chain reaction of what live entertainment can do for our community.
We did a giveback performance of “Beauty and the Beast,” where we brought in families that couldn’t afford tickets. We brought them to the show for free. These families are wearing their best clothes and experiencing the story of “Beauty and the Beast.” They’re making memories.
Paulson: How would you define the Amarillo community?
Crespin: It varies, just like any other good melting pot community. We havefamilies who have been in oil and cattle, but then we have local businesses which create a great local economy for us.
We have kids from all over who have the same struggles as you have. Our community needs to work together toward one common goal – and, hopefully, that goal is to make Amarillo the best place we can live in and a safe place for our kids.
Want to read more stories of innovators like Crespin in Amarillo? See our interview with Angela Knapp Eggers, Senior Director of Community Outreach at the Laura W. Bush Insitute.