.cat-links { display: none !important; }
An all-inclusive youth theater

An all-inclusive youth theater

By Nancy Price

Auditioning for a role as an actor, dancer or singer, even if it’s for a community or youth theater, can produce a number of fears and anxiety. What if I blow my lines onstage? What if I’m too tall, too short, too young, too old or have a disability?

Anyone interested in participating in a production at Creative Grounds Fine Arts Academy is guaranteed a spot.


“We are all inclusive,” said Mark Landis, a Center Grove resident and executive director and co-founder of Creative Grounds. “We have students with autism, Down syndrome and other chromosomal disorders; they are totally immersed in our productions.”

Close friendships develop among young performers. (Submitted photo)

“If they audition, they get to be a part of the production,” added Katie Landis, Mark’s wife. “It’s not just about being inclusive, it’s about integrating students as part of our organization. They belong as much as anyone else.”

The Southside nonprofit began in 2014 as an extension of the worship ministry through Center Grove Church, where Mark was a worship pastor at the time.  The ministry became so popular that the number of schoolchildren involved doubled in size after each of the first several musical productions. By June of 2018, “the ministry grew more than the capacity (for it); there were 200 kids in the program,” Katie said. Mark and Katie felt called to continue the program and started Creative Grounds as a nonprofit. Children ages 8 through 18 are invited to participate in youth productions, and those ages 16 and over may participate in adult productions.

As well, the nonprofit is open to anyone in the metropolitan Indianapolis area, regardless of their religious affiliation. “We still have devotions, we’re values-based, but we don’t push (Christianity) down their throats,” Mark said.

Mark Landis directs students during an outdoor rehearsal. (Photo by Neal Smith)

Students have choices when participating in musical productions if performing is not an interest. They may assist with set building, props, ushering or serving on the student leadership team. Student leaders may help those with disabilities get on or off the stage, serve as a buddy or tend to someone who seems alone or lost.


They also may assist those with autism attending sensory-friendly productions. Within the past year, Creative Grounds introduced these productions so that those with autism would have a comfortable experience, involving keeping house lights up for those who have trouble adapting to total darkness, eliminating flickering lights and keeping the volume low. Those with autism are also allowed to wander on stage, while students on the leadership team keep an eye on them to ensure their safety. “it’s one of my favorite nights performing,” Mark said.

Grace Streib of Center Grove High School said she has developed invaluable skills and values while serving as a leader. “If I see students sitting alone, I don’t feel awkward going up to them,” she said. “We work on loving more and sharing our love in any situation. I feel more confident about that. I feel closer to God in devotion time.”

Creative Grounds Fine Arts Academy’s 2017 production of Beauty and the Beast. (Submitted photo)

Meghan Wombles, a recent Center Grove High School graduate, began performing with Creative Grounds in the spring of 2018. She played Mrs. Banks in Mary Poppins. “I’ve grown in confidence as a performer and a person,” Wombles said. “I’m creating relationships with younger students, I’m able to lead a cast and help everyone. If I hadn’t joined Creative Grounds, I wouldn’t be pursuing musical theater in college. To know God has a plan for me is really cool. I’m really thankful I was a part of the program.”


Mark said he challenges students in the production to perform at a professional level – and it pays off. “Patrons in the past said they came expecting to see kids doing a production,” he said. “They left astonished to see a production done by kids.”

Creative Grounds plans to show two upcoming musical performances: Curtains, a musical mystery comedy, from June 24-28; Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, planned for the end of July and beginning of August and James and the Giant Peach JR. for the end of August.

Students practice social distancing while rehearsing for a summer production. (Photo by Neal Smith)

For more information, go to cgfinearts.org.


THE SHOW MUST GO ONLINE is a virtual musical, presented through a special arrangement with Beat by Beat Press, in response to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic as a way for actors to work together as an ensemble to put on a show – while staying safe in their own homes. For more information, go to cgfinearts.org.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *