Union City, Tenn.— A group of students participating in the next production of Discovery Park of America’s Historical Theater Academy has now experienced firsthand the old adage “the show must go on.”
The Historical Theater Academy is made possible in part by a financial gift from Warner Law Firm and Third & Church of Union City and a grant contract with the state of Tennessee. This unique program designed for students in grades six through twelve takes place at Discovery Park twice each year. Participants receive instruction in multiple aspects of theater and historical research then stage a performance of the original work they create. Rather than cancel the current class, the planning, research and writing phase has been moved online. Their work will be performed later in the year.
“Working on a play without being together in one room has its challenges,” said Andrew Gibson, Discovery Park assistant director of education. “But when you have a group of creative students who are as passionate about theater as these are, nothing will stop them from meeting, not even a world pandemic.”
The mission of Discovery Park, a 100,000-square-foot museum and 50-acres heritage park in Union City, Tenn. is to inspire children and adults to see beyond. While that has primarily been done with programs, exhibits and hands-on experiences, the organization closed to the public on March 17, 2020 because of the threat to guests and staff from the coronavirus.
The museum has also been using technology to communicate with members and others who follow the organization on social media. Early in the pandemic they worked with Baptist Memorial Hospital–Union City to share COVID-19 information on the Discovery Park blog and to their e-mail list. Lindsay Frilling, CEO of the Obion County Chamber of Commerce, joined Scott Williams, Discovery Park CEO, for a video posted to YouTube and Facebook with information for both small business owners and residents in the area.
Under ordinary circumstances, this time of the year the Discovery Park education specialists and docents would be sharing lessons and details about the exhibits and activities at the museum and park with thousands of families that would be visiting for spring break. Much of that interaction has now moved to social media in the form of daily posts of photos of artifacts, videos of the staff sharing lessons in the galleries and frequent blog posts with a deeper dive into many of the areas guests would ordinarily get to experience in person. When it was evident there was the possibility of staff not being able to come to work, the internal team quickly worked to create videos that will be shared until guest can return.
While many of Discovery Park’s staff are working from home, a few continue to work to keep everything in perfect order for when guests can visit again. One such staff member is John Watkins, Discovery Park’s grounds director. The 50-acre heritage park includes a man-made river flowing through the extensively landscaped property, along with waterfalls, bridges and art installations. On Friday, Watkins took advantage of the beautiful spring day to film several videos that will be shared on Facebook.
“One of the most beautiful times of the year at Discovery Park is when the dogwood trees begin to bloom in the spring and the lawns begin greening up,” said Watkins. “I’m grateful to get to share a little of this with those who are having to stay at home.”
Although they are working from home, a task force of Discovery Park’s managers and directors has already begun frequent meetings on Zoom planning for the day the museum and park can once again open to the public. Plastic shields are currently being installed at the ticket counter and in Sabin’s Café, and new policies and procedures will be put into place to make certain guests will be able to visit safely when the time comes.
“Based on what we’re hearing from experts in the tour and travel industry, eventually people are going to be looking for relief from being indoors for so long,” said Scott Williams, Discovery Park CEO. “Our task force is planning for ways we can safely activate our 50 acres to provide a wide-open space that will enable us to meet that need and implement our mission while ensuring everyone’s safety.”