Decatur Community Players provides creative space for kids
By Zoe Seiler, contributor
For years, Shell Ramirez has worked to improve her community through theater.
Ramirez was approached by Theatre of the Stars, before it closed, to start a theater program at the International Community School. She became one of the founding parents of the program. She also helped start the musical theater program at Renfroe Middle School.
During that time, she also had a theater company on the side that did one show a year, but as time went on, the company grew, and more kids got involved.
“It was started as just like a little one off, we were going to do something but the more the kids liked it and the more kids wanted to do it, the more I was like well we really need to build a program for kids to be able to have a space,” Ramirez said.
So, Ramirez founded a children’s musical theater troupe called Decatur Community Players in 2009. The program provides year-round performing arts instruction to kids ages five to 17, according the Decatur Community Players website.
Ramirez and Melissa Gouinlock, administrative director and costume creator, work together to teach and empower their students through musical theater.
“It’s really rewarding because people trust their kids with us and then you see the kids blossom,” Gouinlock said. “Some of these parents have kids that have never had an interest or stuck with anything before. Then they come and they find their voice and they find where they feel like they belong, and they want to come back and do it again and again. It’s nice to provide that.”
There are 120 kids involved in the program and small group of those students travel to perform or compete. Next year the travel team is going to California and New York.
Students also perform shows around town and recently performed “Legally Blonde” at Emory University.
To prepare for these shows, Ramirez gets her students started with an activity and then let’s them warm up and begin rehearsing on their own.
The travel team is rehearsing “Once on this Island” to prepare for competition in California. Angelo Benfield,17, and Maddy Smith,17, are directing and choreographing this musical.
“It used to be less student led, but it’s gotten more student led over the years,” said Chloe Witherspoon, 12, who has been in the program for seven years. “At competitions they always ask, ‘Was this student choreographed?’ and now we can always say yes because most students choreograph everything. We’ve really taken charge with what we want to do with things.”
“We get to choreograph by ourselves which I think is awesome. Right now, I’m actually choreographing ‘Human Heart.’ I’m a dancer for that song,” added Sofia Satterfield, 10, who has been in the program for two years.
Satterfield also said that Decatur Community players brings people closer together and teaches great life skills which is why she thinks other kids should get involved.
“Kindness and caring for sure. I think just accepting people for the way they are because we have a lot of different people here,” she said.
Decatur Community Players has been in multiple buildings since its beginning, but Ramirez said there are kids who have stayed with her for years and who have become family.
“They’re just like my kids. I protect them. I mean creating a space, like this is a space where they can feel free and when they get in here, they’re safe here,” Ramirez said.
Decatur Community Players focuses primarily on the musical theater program, but Ramirez also welcomes the community to use the space.
“The purpose of creating a community theater and being Decatur Community Players is that we’re all about community,” Ramirez said.
On Saturday mornings at 9:30 a.m., Decatur Community Players hosts a puppet show for children ages two to four. The space was also recently used for a choir recital and a prom birthday party.
“I wanted to create a space where it wasn’t just give me your money, give me your money,” Ramirez said. “I wanted to also have something where it had a community give-back aspect.”
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