When Jeremy Kisling was in eighth grade in Iowa, he was cast in his first theater production. It was a life-altering moment.
"By the time I went to college, I had been in about 35 different plays, playing everything from Eeyore to the Beast in Beauty and the Beast," he recalled.
He learned the importance of not only the performance but the craft.
For the past 121/2 years, Kisling has worked for Lexington Children's Theatre, which on Tuesday will receive the Education Award in the 2013 Governor's Awards in the Arts, the highest arts honor in Kentucky.
"My goal has always been to build the skill set as well as the performance," said Kisling, the theater's education director.
With the theater's extensive summer classes, Kisling saw the opportunity to extend the hours and make them more performance-oriented.
"That's when I get to spend a little more time developing skill sets" such as voice projection and developing a character, he said.
During the school year, Kisling saw more of a need to get into the schools themselves. He reasoned that a commute to the Children's Theatre's performance space on West Short Street was a rough trip for many students just getting out of school for the day.
Now, the Children's Theatre will branch out into 10 Lexington elementary schools.
"All the principals have to do is give us a space," Kisling said.
Lexington Children's Theatre was founded in 1938, making it one of the nation's oldest continuously operating theaters for young people, and is a non-profit organization that serves as the State Children's Theatre of Kentucky. It reaches up to 150,000 children annually.
Larry Snipes, producing director for the theater, said on the arts awards website that for many of the students reached by his group, "We're the first experience they have in live-performance theater. To see a full production within their school and within their community, that's the most valuable thing we provide."
One of the families touched by the Children's Theatre is the Gorrells of Lexington — so much so that Cassady Gorrell, now a freshman at the University of Kentucky, wants to give back by helping to train students.
"There's a lot of self- discovery that happens and a lot of confidence-building," she said. "It's a very safe space for students. They're not only challenged artistically, they're challenged intellectually. ... The skills developed through children's theater can translate to life so well."
Her mother, Grace Gorrell, described herself as a fan of children's theater.
She said that Cassady started "when she was going into fourth grade ... and really wants to make it her career, not being an actor, but being in the education side of it. ... My daughter has learned and gained as much offstage as onstage — the amount of responsibility they learn, working as a team, how to work with all types of people and being inclusive of all."
IF YOU GO
Governor's Awards in the Arts
What: Presentation of the nine winners of the 2013 Governor's Awards in the Arts winners
When: 10 a.m. Oct. 29
Where: State Capitol Rotunda, Frankfort
Learn more: Artscouncil.ky.gov/KentuckyArt/GovAward2013.htm
These are the winners of the 2013 Governor's Awards in the Arts.
Milner Award: Oakley and Eva Farris, Covington
Artist Award: Laura Ross, Prospect
Business Award: 21c Museum Hotel, Louisville
Community Arts Award: International Bluegrass Music Museum, Owensboro
Education Award: Lexington Children's Theatre
Folk Heritage Award: Edward White, Louisville
Government Award: Kentucky Artisan Center at Berea
Media Award: Tom Eblen, Lexington Herald-Leader
National Award: Actors Theatre of Louisville
IF YOU GO
Lexington Children's Theatre
The theater is in the midst of its 75th anniversary season. Here are the remaining shows. All are performed at LCT, 416 W. Short St., unless otherwise noted. For more information, call (859) 254-4546, Ext. 247, or 1-800-928-4545 or go to Lctonstage.org.
■ The Legend of Sleepy Hollow, through Oct. 27
■ The Paper Bag Princess, Nov. 10-17
■ The Best Christmas Pageant Ever, Nov. 30-Dec. 9 at Lexington Opera House, 401 W. Short St.
■ Anansi the Spider, Nov. 23-Dec. 15
■ And Then They Came for Me: Remembering the World of Anne Frank, Jan. 25-31
■ The Musical Adventures of Flat Stanley, Feb. 23-March 13
■ Jack and the Wonder Beans, March 16-27
■ Gossamer, April 18-30
Cheryl Truman: (859) 231-3202. Twitter: @CherylTruman.