Anna and her husband, Brent Wilcox (an alumnus from the class of 1998), established BackStory Theater in Broomfield, Colorado with a class of nine students in 2006, which pales in comparison to the 800 students involved in the program this past year.
“We want to create a super positive environment so that everyone can walk away and feel like they had a moment to be the star of the show, even if they weren’t the lead – that they can walk away and say that they accomplished something great,” Anna said.
Anna founded BackStory Theater, a nonprofit organization that provides acting opportunities and performances for the community, after acting professionally for five years in the Denver area and teaching acting at various theaters and schools in the her area.
“I just felt like that was sort of my niche that I wanted to be teaching,” Anna said. “I really enjoyed working with children.”
Anna said she saw a need for local artistic opportunities in the community.
“As most everyone knows, even the school systems are starting to drop arts programs, and especially drama,” Anna said. “Most schools, if they hang onto any arts at all, it’s orchestra or music programs. So I thought since I was doing this all over, why not think about maybe starting something in my area.”
Providing classes and performances at little to no cost was top priority to Anna when she started BackStory Theater because she did not have the resources to participate in the arts when she was young.
“It was always in my heart that I didn’t want it to cost too much for kids to do,” Anna said. “If I had started younger and worked on my proficiency earlier, I could have learned. It would have built my confidence earlier. So, immediately, our mission was to make theater arts accessible to everyone — whether that is that they’re taking a class, auditioning to be in a show or coming to a show.”
Anna said her number one mission is not to put on a good show, but to empower the children involved in the productions.
“As far as for the kids, our number one mission is that we want to build self-esteem and self-confidence in these kids,” Anna said. “No matter what they do in their life, the experiences that they have rehearsing for a show, being in a show, working as a team, building those problem-solving skills, communication skills – all of that is going to go with them into whatever career they choose and hopefully really build them up as a person.”
Phil Reagan, associate professor of communications and theater, said Anna is providing a needed service for the community.
“The fact is, is that these kind of programs are really needed in communities,” Reagan said. “It gives kids the chance to do something they wouldn’t normally.”
Reagan said giving opportunities for children is important in their development as artists.
“Children naturally have the talent to perform in different ways,” Reagan said “If they start early, it’s like a musician where if you start when you’re 4 instead of when you’re 14, your chances of success are 10 times greater.”
Anna said she aims to provide age-appropriate and family-friendly performances to the community for free.
“So much of theater, you have to be so careful as a participant or as a family going to view whether its appropriate or not. And I’m not even just saying for Christians, I’m just saying across the board,” Anna said. “I like the idea that our kids don’t have to worry about what they’re going to say, what they’re going to have to wear or what they’re going to have to do on stage. I think that’s a big difference that we are making.”
Keeping the business afloat has not always been easy though, according to Anna.
“We’ve had a lot of financial struggles in the last few years and it kind of came to a head in the beginning of this year,” Anna said. “We even thought we may have to close the organization just because, although we did receive grants and stuff like that last year, our spending is hard. Everybody’s scrambling for the same grants.”
BackStory Theater was not recognized as a nonprofit organization until 2013, which added financial stress to the organization. Anna said the community support has outweighed the negatives, though.
“Luckily, our community stepped up and we had a big fundraiser so that we didn’t have to close our doors,” Anna said. “People rallied and said that they still wanted this in the community and didn’t want it to go away.”
Reagan said Anna is a role model for current students at Oklahoma Christian.
“Students need to see that it can be done if you’re willing to give what it takes. It really takes your energy and time to get something like this started. But, once it gets started, it’s amazing what it can do.”