Two children practice an exercise. Here, they pretend to be celebrities walking to a party.
Journey's class plays pretend.
Journey McAlister, director of Theatre Journey.
Notes from current and former students.
Details in McAlister's "green room."
By Emma Kent
When she graduated from Blue Mountain College in 2017, Journey McCalister wasn’t sure what she was going to do next.
McCalister, who has been singing and acting since high school, did know that she loves working with children and she loves theater. So, seeing the need for a children’s theater camp in Corinth, McCalister decided to start her own, now known as “Theatre Journey.”
This is the second summer she has hosted the camp, and since the first summer, she’s also started offering acting classes and lessons throughout the school year.
Theatre Journey meets at her brother’s shop, Taylor Wick and Co., in Corinth’s SoCo district. They decided to split the building, with Theatre Journey occupying the back half and Taylor Wick occupying the front.
The Theatre Journey space is essentially a mini theater complete with a stage, lights and two rows of seating for a small audience. Right off of the theater space is a lounge area full of colorful props and a costume closet stocked with clothes.
“They love to dress up and do scenes,” McCalister said of the kids she teaches.
In the summer, McCalister puts on a weeklong Theatre Journey camp for local kids. During the camp, she starts with the basics and works up to having the children write and perform their own monologues and scenes.
“The more they do it, the more they enjoy it,” McCalister said.
At the beginning of camp, McCalister has the kids play games and do acting exercises to get everyone warmed up and comfortable expressing themselves. Some kids jump right in, while others need more time to get used to performing.
“That can help them come out of their shell,” she said.
She might have them act out a specific situation, emulate an emotion or react to something she says. Sometimes, she uses pop culture references to get the kids into it.
In one scenario they practiced this summer, she’s pop-star Ariana Grande, and the kids are all attending a party at her house. They take turns greeting her in character as various celebrities — and they really get into it.
“Let me see your personalities,” McCalister tells them, always encouraging them to let loose, get loud and embrace their characters.
Her students can sometimes get a little crazy, but that’s why McCalister loves what she does. She works with kids as young as six and through the high school grades.
“The kids are definitely the best part for me,” she said. “They’re hilarious and they all have their own personalities.”
At the end of the week, parents are invited to come and watch them perform their creations. For some of her campers, the end-of-week performances can be the most nerve-wracking part of the whole week. But McCalister says that’s exactly why she wants them to do them. For her, teaching theater to kids is all about boosting their self-confidence.
“I like to think that them being on stage makes them more comfortable being themselves,” she said. “Last year, they all nailed it. Nobody freaked out, and that’s hard to do, especially in front of all of those people.”
McCalister also offers private individual and group lessons. These are tailored to the kids’ age ranges and levels of acting experience. They meet on weeknights during the school year.
In December and May, her students from her classes get together to perform an original play for their parents and friends. McCalister writes all of the plays herself.
“That puts a personal touch on all of them, so that’s fun,” she said.
McCalister fell in love with acting and singing during high school when she joined her school’s theatre program. For her, that was when she found her niche, a place where she fit in.
She hopes that Theatre Journey will help the kids she works with find their own sense of belonging, whether that’s in a theater program at school or in her program.
“I think that’s been the highlight, for me, is watching them grow into themselves,” she said. “I just hope this is a place where they can come and release everything and just be themselves.”