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Draper Journal

Up With Kids Children's Musical Theatre Academy celebrates 30 years

Oct 31, 2019 02:37PM ● By Katherine Weinstein

Students get ready for their curtain call in the 2018 Up With Kids production, “The Greatest Show.” (Photo courtesy Up with Kids)

By Katherine Weinstein | [email protected]

"Be brave, friendly — and loud enough!" Allison Merrill, director of the Draper location of Up With Kids Children's Musical Theatre Academy, summed up the key lessons she gives her students. Celebrating 30 years, Up With Kids seeks to develop kids' confidence and self-esteem through involvement in the performing arts. 

Since its beginning decades ago in Taylorsville, Up With Kids has expanded to 32 cities throughout the state of Utah, including Draper. A staff of 18 dedicated "directors" teach everything from voice and acting techniques to basic dance for musical theater and audition tips. Up With Kids classes are open to all children and teens ages 4 through 16. 

Each year, the classes culminate in a May performance of an original, new musical written by Up With Kids staff. This year's production will be "Jasmine and Aladdin: A Whole New Show." Nancy Scott, director of operations for Up With Kids, explained, "It is an original, family-friendly production based on the classic 'Arabian Nights' and the fun new movie." 

Each Up With Kids branch presents their own production of the show. "The message we're sharing this year is 'Together we can build a whole new world,'" Scott said. "Our program is a lesson in inclusiveness." 

Everyone is welcome at Up With Kids. "We have had kids with special needs such as ADHD, kids in wheelchairs or who are hearing-impaired," Merrill said. 

"This is for all children," Scott said.

Some of the kids who join Up With Kids already have some experience in the performing arts and want to develop their skills, while others struggle with shyness or self-esteem. For the latter, going through the process of auditioning for other children's theater programs can be daunting. "We don't do auditions," Merrill said. "But we teach kids how to audition." 

Merrill's daughter, Savannah, age 10, started at Up With Kids when she was 3. "Up With Kids is so much fun and it teaches you how to audition so you can be prepared for plays and choirs," Savannah said. 

There are also no "one line" or "walk on" roles in Up With Kids productions. "Every child gets a speaking part and a character to play," Scott explained.

"Every single kid gets their moment to say their lines and shine on stage," Merrill said.   

Scott told the story of how Up With Kids began. "A wonderful young lady named Shauna Livingston wanted to encourage children to have an appreciation for the arts," she said. Livingston had a background in education and enjoyed organizing plays with kids in her neighborhood. "As a teacher, she realized that the arts were being taken out of the schools and wanted to address that."

Scott signed her 7-year-old daughter up for Up With Kids 28 years ago in Taylorsville. Scott noted that in addition to acting, singing and movement, the kids were being given a cultural education in subjects like poetry and the great composers. "I could not leave the class," Scott said. "I was enamored." 

Scott encouraged Livingstone to bring the program to Sandy and became a teacher herself. Since then, as Up With Kids expanded throughout the state, thousands of children have participated in the program. Scott noted that she and Livingston are "just tickled to have students now whose parents were in our classes." In fact, some of the teachers at Up With Kids were in the program as children. Merrill, for example, started at Up With Kids when she was just 4 years old.

Draper resident Jackie Jones' daughter Charly also joined Up With Kids when she was 4 and is still enjoying the program at age 12. "The biggest benefit is the experience of being up in front of people and learning to speak in front of an audience," Jones said. "It's about building that confidence that we all need." 

The Draper location of Up With Kids is currently accepting new students through January. For more information, visit