The youth cast rehearses for the "Best Christmas Pageant Ever," at the Community Center at Light and Life Christian Fellowship’s
The youth cast rehearses for the "Best Christmas Pageant Ever," at the Community Center at Light and Life Christian Fellowship's after-school theater program in North Long Beach. The theater's goal is to offer less fortunate middle school aged children in the heavily gang-influenced communities of North Long Beach a glimpse into the world of secular theater and provide them an opportunity to discover their creative potential. (Sean Hiller / Staff Photographer)

Travis Wade has loved theater for more than 30 years - ever since he was a kid. From acting to directing and producing plays, he had always somehow been involved in the theater.

When he moved from Colorado to Long Beach, he was surprised theater wasn't in the school curriculum.

"I was disappointed by that, because I just think theater is such a great experience for any kid to have, especially if they love acting," said Wade.

Wade, a father of four who wanted to share what he had experienced over the years, started an after-school theater in the community center of Light and Life Christian Fellowship Church in Long Beach.

"I have four kids of my own. If they wanted to do theater, I'd have to pay $300 a kid to do an after-school play," he said. "Why doesn't any kid get to experience this? I loved doing plays when I was a kid."

Today, the group of young actors will premiere its second production: Barbara Robinson's "The Best Christmas Pageant Ever."

Wade is also founder of Revelation Films, a nonprofit video production company. In January, with the support of several organizations, including the Long Beach Council for the Arts, the North Long Beach theater program began.

The arts council provided a $1,000 grant to support the group's effort to reach at-risk youths and their families, said John Glaza, interim executive director of the Long Beach Council for the Arts.

The council also helped support the theater's first production, "James and the Giant Peach," last April.

"The more we can do to support these types of efforts throughout the city of Long Beach, the better for all involved," Glaza said.

Although the production is held in a church's community center, it is not a religious event, Wade said.

"We want to give them an opportunity to experience something they probably weren't ever going to be exposed to, but we're not preaching and pounding them on the head with the Bible," he said.

Amber Harris gets into her role as Beth during a rehearsal for the "Best Christmas Pageant Ever," at the Community Center at Light and Life
Amber Harris gets into her role as Beth during a rehearsal for the "Best Christmas Pageant Ever," at the Community Center at Light and Life Christian Fellowship's after-school theater program in North Long Beach. (Sean Hiller / Staff Photographer)

Last year more than $20,000 was raised to help fund the group's April production, Wade said.

The support allowed the group to equip the community center with lights, staging and other theatrical equipment, Wade said.

"The goal was to offer less fortunate children in the heavily gang-influenced communities of North Long Beach a glimpse into the world of secular theater and provide them an opportunity to discover their creative potential," he said.

The program provides 20 to 30 students a safe place to participate in activities they would otherwise never be exposed to, Wade said.

"It's been a challenge, but I`ve learned a lot from it in terms of what these kids need," he said. "They come from a place where a lot of them have been dealt a bad hand and they need to be loved, respected and they need a challenge."

In addition to basic theater, kids can learn lighting, audio design, graphic design, set design and construction, makeup and costuming.

The productions will be today, Saturday, Dec. 7 and Dec. 8 at 7 p.m. nightly at the community center at Light and Life Christian Fellowship. Cost is $3. Call 562-630-6074 for tickets.

pam.hale@presstelegram.com, 562-499-1476 Follow Pamela Hale-Burns on Twitter at http://twitter.com/PamelaHaleBurns

Long Beach church to offer Christmas Joy

Bethany Church of Long Beach will open its 38th annual Christmas Joy presentation, "Indivisible Under God," this weekend.

The musical drama will feature the Christmas Joy Choir, Gettysburg Kids, handbells and a drama cast from the music ministry.

The performance takes place in 1863 in Gettysburg and shares a story that deals with the brokenness of the world, in particular, with America.

Eight presentations will be held: Saturday and Sunday and Dec. 8 and Dec. 9; 3:30 p.m. and 7 p.m. each day at Bethany Church, 2250 Clark Ave., Long Beach. Admission is free.

Tickets can be picked up at the church or by calling 562-597-2411. 

- Pamela Hale-Burns