Barbara Feldman, founder and executive director of Augusta’s Storyland Theatre, readily admits she likes numbers. She enjoys the mathematical process of adding to the ever-increasing number of children that have attended Storyland performances. She revels in the process of stretching a dime into a dollar and implementing innovative ways kids that might not otherwise enjoy Storyland’s tales can attend performances. I believe, in talking to her last week, she also takes pride in 30 – 30 years of writing, producing and presenting plays to generations of Augusta students and families.
It is indeed an impressive number.
But it probably comes as no surprise that the real rewards Feldman takes from Storyland aren’t something quantifiable. There is no way, for instance, to put any kind of valuation on a child’s smile or the memories they may take from their earliest exposure to live performance. What kind of worth can be estimated when discussing the organization Feldman has surrounded herself with – the members of the Storyland board, actors, craftsmen, writers and supporters, many of whom were with her when Storyland was nothing more than an idea.
I know to Feldman, the worth of these things is beyond measure. They exist in a place beyond numbers. They are things that cannot be counted but, instead, have become things Feldman has come to count on.
“We are all dedicated because this is something that is different,” Feldman told me. “Nobody is here because of ego. There is no competition. We are here because we want to do something wonderful for children and our community.”
Feldman admitted 30 years has meant a lot of changes to Storyland. It’s repertoire of plays – both original fairy tales and adaptations of established classics – continues to expand. Services have expanded, with transportation allowances often offered to schools that might not otherwise attend performances, free admission to military and dependents and scholarships for Augusta State University theater and musical theater students. Feldman said the scholarship program represents one of Storyland’s more fulfilling partnerships. Four years ago, after a nearly decade-long residency at the Imperial Theatre, Storyland returned to the Grover C. Maxwell Performing Arts Theatre.
“The Imperial was wonderful and we will always be grateful to them,” she said. “But the Maxwell always felt perfect to us and going back really felt like going home.”
And yet, sitting secure at 30 years, Storyland Theatre is hardly resting on its laurels. Every production represents a new challenge and as the community grows, so does the demand for the singular product the organization provides. And so Feldman will continue to look at the numbers – analyzing and strategizing new ways to reach even more kids. She also will be looking at those more abstract indicators – performance applause, stories shared by audiences old and new and the impact the introduction of creative notions fosters. Storyland may take a moment to look at its past, but not at the expense of moving forward.
“We are just trying to make this as perfect as it can be,” she said.