Sara Egelston Akers’ mission to provide a fun and professional theatrical outlet for children and young adults has not waivered since she founded the Plano Children’s Theatre in 1991.
But thanks to the help of a growing number of supporters like board President Darrell Rodenbaugh, the executive director has been able to expand the theater’s outreach to neighboring cities.
Collectively rebranded as North Texas Performing Arts, the theater reached a milestone this year when it reorganized its internal governing structure to independently strengthen its youth theaters in Plano, Frisco and McKinney.
In July, the theater also announced a new theatre academy under its new name. The academy offers instruction in acting, voice and dance at each of its three locations.
With plans to open a branch in Southlake, Akers and Rodenbaugh have developed a friendship rooted in the desire to help children find their talents through the art of expression.
“This is the next logical step for us. It’s really difficult for someone from Southlake to come all the way here for rehearsals,” Akers said. “[The city] is very welcoming to us and it’s very exciting.”
Sara Egelston Akers
Akers founded the Plano Children’s Theatre with a donation of $1,500 and the help of three fellow founding board members. Classes took place at Grace Presbyterian Church in Plano and saw 50 students during the first season. Three years later, the group moved to its current location at 1301 Custer Road and added a black box theater, rehearsal rooms and administrative offices.
PCT has produced more than 50 productions featuring children ages 6 to 18 this year, and those who have helped the organization flourish have always kept quality scripts and education at the forefront of the mission, Akers said. Although she is a little nervous about the next chapter, Akers looks forward to focusing on grant writing, the funds from which the theater greatly depends upon.
“It’s a little hard to let go because I was the one who made sure things had gotten paid and things were ready to go,” she said. “I went and bought lumber for the shows. It’s a little difficult, I tell ya.”
The restructuring includes the creation of individual management boards for each city and an overall governing board of directors. An advisory board consists of Akers’ sister and other local professionals. In total, Akers and Rodenbaugh filled 60 new positions within 45 days for the boards.
“We’re both very strong-minded. He’s a dear, dear friend of mine and a confidant. He can spin the dream.”
—Sara Egleston Akers, founder, Plano Children's Theatre
“We’re thinking of it as a school district’s model and Sara is the superintendent. Curriculum and programs are the same in each city, and there is a principal at each and the board is like the school board,” Rodenbaugh said. “That’s kind of what we modeled ourselves like and it has worked well.”
Serving his fourth term as board president, Rodenbaugh has been involved in the PCT for roughly 10 years. His children were students there several years ago, and he credits the theater for helping them overcome their inhibitions. Today, his son, Chris, has been recognized by the Dallas Observer as one of the top performers in Dallas.
“[My daughter] struggled with reading, and we struggled with giving her a passion and a reason to read,” Rodenbaugh said. “That’s why we’re so devoted to this because this organization taught her the importance of reading. I saw the magic of this place through the eyes of my own kids.”
Having worked for McAfee, a computer security software company, as vice president of global midmarket operations, Rodenbaugh said the transition from the corporate world to nonprofit arena benefited him professionally as well.
“I was much less forgiving at McAfee,” he said. “What I learned is the patience to allow [people] to do the right thing.”
So, after all these years together, what has helped make the duo so successful?
“A lot of margaritas,” Sara said with a laugh. “We’re both very strong-minded. He’s a dear, dear friend of mine and a confidant. He can spin
“There’s [also] a lot of trust. The heart and soul is still here [in Plano] and that heart and soul is still Sara,” Rodenbaugh said. “At the end of the day, I know … she wants the very best for our kids and the very best for this organization.”