Northwest Children’s Theater Opens The Judy

After 30 years in operation, the company is bringing a new performing arts center to Broadway.

Across from the Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall, 1000 SW Broadway is now the new home of Northwest Children’s Theater.

The Judy Kafoury Center for Youth Arts, aka The Judy, is named for the company’s co-founder and features four dedicated performing arts spaces: the Stage (a proscenium setting with 240 family bench seats), the Black Box (a flexible space with 120 seats), the Studios (three rooms for classes and camps), and the Cinema. It’s a place not only for children to experience theater, but to take part in it as well.

In 1993, current NWCT managing director Judy Kafoury was one of three founders who opened the company on a budget of $6,000, though she says that “by the end of the year, the company had grossed over $275,000. We knew we were here to stay.”

In that first year, NWCT’s main production was Winnie the Pooh. Many more productions have followed in the intervening years, and for much of that time NWCT was located in the Northwest Neighborhood Cultural Center at 19th and Everett.

Now, NWCT has finally found a new and improved space to put down roots in the heart of the city (a project budgeted at $6.3 million). As it happens, The Judy’s new location was, until 2011, the site of the Regal Broadway Metroplex, one of several Regal cinema locations in the downtown core (Portland cinephiles still have fond memories of descending into its cool, enveloping basement theaters).

Asked whether the Cinema would have been part of The Judy if NWCT hadn’t selected this location, artistic director Sarah Jane Hardy says, “The answer is categorically no. It wasn’t part of our initial planning at all…with the vision for our building, we looked at a variety of options. Did we want a community theater, did we want more community space? Let’s just leave it as it is, reinvest in it as a movie theater.”

NWCT has already started putting that investment to good use, with the Cinema at The Judy having had its inaugural Family Movie Night on April 21 with Mary Poppins. Other films for future dates are lined up, according to Hardy, but the rights are still pending, so details cannot be shared publicly yet.

“We’re hoping to have a year-round calendar,” she says. “We’ll be open to all kinds of shows…[but] our main focus for the last three or four months has been opening weekend.”

The opening weekend event of which Hardy speaks took place April 29, and The Judy’s first show on the Stage was held the same day: Elephant & Piggie’s We Are in a Play!, written by acclaimed picture book author and illustrator Mo Willems (also known for his Pigeon series).

Elephant & Piggie will run on weekends until May 28. Meanwhile, at the Black Box, May 5 was opening night for the NWCT Catalyst Youth Company’s production of Cinderella, which had evening shows on Fridays, plus matinee performances on Saturdays and Sundays, until May 21.

This version of the fairy tale uniquely incorporated tap dancing, set to music by Portland jazz pianist, composer and teacher Ezra Weiss. It is one of several productions Weiss has scored to introduce children to jazz, along with Alice in Wonderland and Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus! (another Mo Willems adaptation).

As for the Studios, spring 2023 classes are in session through June 4. Classes include “Enchanted Lands Travel Agency,” “Night at the Museum,” and “Peppa’s Barnyard” (based on the British animated series.)

Summer camps will run from June 19 through Aug. 25, with events on the calendar based on Bluey, Shrek, Into the Woods and many more. Scholarships and payment plans are offered, and classes and camps will also be held at other venues throughout the metro region (two Methodist churches in Portland, plus theaters in Sherwood and Beaverton).

The Judy promises to be an all-encompassing artistic space for children and families, and NWCT is pulling out all the stops to make its first season in its new location one for families to remember. Two decades after that production of Winnie the Pooh, the company still appears to be here to stay.

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