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Searching for the Chocolate Factory in Indiana


This year toward the end of October, around 100 costume-clad kids in South Indianapolis were immersed in a world of candy at Center Grove Christian Reformed Church in Greenwood, Ind. But they weren’t trick-or-treaters. Rather, they performed as cast and chorus members in a production of Roald Dahl’s “Willy Wonka” TYA (Theater for Young Audiences), hunting down golden tickets to the legendary Chocolate Factory.

The production was a part of Center Grove’s Fine Arts Academy (FAA), which put on eight performances of the show. The sanctuary was transformed into another place and time with artistic set designs and lighting systems. ‘Our church really gets excited when they see it,” said Mark Landis, Center Grove’s worship and fine arts ministry director. “The community embraces it.” Each performance nearly sold out, with a total of about 2,400 tickets sold.

Center Grove launched the FAA outreach ministry in 2014 for kids ages 9 to 18 and have put on eight productions since. The original group of 30 kids has grown to more than 200. “With 200 kids, we decided it’s time to do a little more and reach further into the community,” Landis said.

The program now offers a variety of semester-long classes in the arts, from dance classes to pencil drawing, voice lessons, and a comedy workshop.

“The purpose is to share the gospel,” Landis emphasized. “We have devotions every week with prayer and a lesson about who God is and who he wants us to be in him. During the production week we have worship and a devotional every day.”

Landis described the behavior of one student, who said she is an atheist, changing over time. At first she would roll her eyes and act annoyed whenever they did devotions. Further along she simply sat back and listened. “Then she did ‘Willy Wonka’ and she no longer sat back,” Landis added. “She was sitting forward in her seat. She is still saying she’s an atheist but starting to soften that heart.”

Ann Cummins, a member of the church, sees this outreach as a way to bring the community and the church together. As an audience member, “It’s a joyful thing to experience,” she said. “The people are encouraged by it and are really impressed with the growth of these kids.”

A production of “Elf the Musical Jr.” is in the works for January 2017.

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