Inspiring Artists Stories
Today we'd like to introduce you to Clayton, Kyle, and Matthew Thurmond of Kids Unlimited Institute of the Arts
Current Location: Redding, CA
Clayton, Kyle, and Matthew, thank you for taking the time to share your story. Before jumping in, can you tell us a little about yourselves and Kids Unlimited Institute of the Arts?
Kids Unlimited was founded in the summer of 1988. KUIA, or KU as we often call ourselves, is a 501(c)3 Non-Profit Organization with Broadway-Caliber summer programs in singing, dancing, acting, and art aimed to not only increase performance skills, but to also instill positive life-lessons that promote confidence, courage and commitment.
The first KU show in 1988 was 55-minutes long and played to a packed house of 1,700 people. It soon became apparent that KU should become a community project. Over the years, KU has grown and now executes four performances involving 100-150 of Shasta County’s most talented children, teens, and young adults. In 1993, Kids Unlimited applied to the U.S. Government and the State of California for Non-Profit status, with the new title of Kids Unlimited Institute of the Arts.
This helped to broaden its vision and expand its community involvement by reaching an even greater number of students and making the program more accessible to all young people. KU is located in beautiful Redding in Northern California. Having grown up in the area we were recognized throughout the Redding Community as the Thurmond Triplets. In 2018, KUIA was signed over to us, as KUIA's new Producing Executive Directors.
Since becoming Producing Executive Directors of KUIA, we have been working tirelessly to bring the KU MAGIC back to Shasta County and the Redding Community. It has taken us over 2 years of love, sweat and tears to make the Kids Unlimited Reimagined Summer 2020 Conservatory and Performance Encounter Revival a reality. We were all performers in KU from 1993-1999 and became staff members in 2000. We have worked with top professionals in the entertainment industry including producers and directors from New York City, Broadway, Hollywood, Las Vegas, Japan and The Walt Disney Company.
For over a decade, we have starred as Peter Pan at the Disneyland Resort in Southern California and in Tokyo, Japan. Using our training and expertise, we are committed to bringing the best quality of instruction and performance to Kids Unlimited, creating the most spectacular shows that KU has ever produced. We are committed to making dreams come true for young performers of all ages and are excited that the new generation of KU students will get to experience the KU MAGIC that we have loved for so many years!
What else should we know about Kids Unlimited Institute of the Arts?
Kids Unlimited is open to all children, teens and young adults ages 7-20, regardless of talent or experience. Here at Kids Unlimited, we find ways to challenge them to maximize their performance potential. KU will give them the highest quality performance experience possible. Whether they are beginners or very advanced, a KU performer will find many experiences that will challenge their skills. The atmosphere at KU is positive, encouraging and uplifting. Competition, while a natural part of the performance experience, is handled in a way that discourages rivalry. Kids Unlimited is about DISCIPLINE, HARD WORK ETHIC, TEAMWORK, and EXCELLENCE.
The KU Summer Conservatory and Performance Encounter is organized into several teams of dancing, singing and drama. Each team is composed of students with similar skill levels. Students start their day with a full cast rehearsal called Stageteam. Students are then dismissed to either their vocal or dance teams followed by afternoon enrichment classes that are designed to help students in various areas in the performing arts. All classes are instructed by highly trained and experienced teachers from New York City, Broadway, Los Angeles, Las Vegas, and Disney.
Can you tell us about what you've all been working on recently?
Right now we are currently focusing on grant writing, corporate and local sponsorships, community outreach, and student and performer outreach for next summer's Kids Unlimited Reimagined Conservatory and Performance Encounter. We are in hopes to get enough grant money to help us make next summer's experience the highest quality possible for our performers and community. Since we are a Non-Profit Organization, we survive and thrive off of these types of support. It is vital to keep this one of a kind program going in the North Stage and Redding community, especially during this time of uncertainty with the Covid-19 pandemic.
Taking over a youth theater program is no easy task, what are some of the obstacles you've faced in getting Kids Unlimited back on its feet?
The biggest obstacle we have encountered has been the financial stability of the company. The three of us have put our entire savings into this project and continue to pay all expenses while we endure this pandemic. It has not been easy but through faith, hard work, the power of God, our parents, and small business donations, we have been able to stay afloat while we navigate through challenges, changes, postponements of shows, and safety of our performers and patrons.
We have so much community support that has helped us persevere through the past three years while working on this reimagined revival show of Kids Unlimited. The community has expressed their excitement and are geared up to see our North State performers excel in our program. That is truly what keeps us going and inspires us to overcome any hardships our company faces. Having the three of us together on this project helps a lot, as we know what it takes to get this show up and running.
Are there any lessons that you try to instill in the young artists you work with?
The biggest lesson that we have learned is to never give up. To always work hard, stick together, and work toward the goals we believe in the most. This company has brought us so much joy, love, life lessons, and work ethic, and it has inspired us to be the best performers and people we could be. We hope to create KU magic for kids, teens, and young adults of all ages to persevere even in hard times like these with this pandemic. We want young people to know that with all hard work comes success. We want our community to know how hard we all work in the arts and how much it brings people together. Our younger selves would tell each other to stand tall, stand proud, and the voices that care the most, like ours, are heard and valued.
What inspired you to take over Kids Unlimited?
Clayton Thurmond: Since my brothers and I took over Kids Unlimited in 2018, we have been working around the clock to bring the KU Magic back to the Redding Community. For over 30 years, Kids Unlimited has been an iconic and one-of-a-kind six week Summer Conservatory and Performance Encounter and a magical experience most people involved remember for the rest of their lives. My brothers and I are truly blessed and excited to be taking the lead, Producing and Executive Directing the new Kids Unlimited. The heart of KU and the daily operations will remain the same as in previous years, but my brothers and I have updated the program and have given the show the necessary changes and updates that it really needed. KU is known far and wide for putting on some of the best Broadway-Caliber shows in the North State and we are pulling out all of the stops with this new show. Summer 2020 is going to be a very special year for my brothers and I and Kids Unlimited, because we are going to create magical memories that will have the community standing on their feet cheering for years to come.
Since KU closed its doors in 2017, the Redding Community has suffered an unfortunate loss. So many young children, teens, and young adults looked forward and depended on the KU experience every summer. KU has helped guide so many young people’s love and passion for the Visual and Performing Arts. It was these summers where every student who participated felt a sense of belonging and pride. Where, every student felt wanted and had a safe and nurturing place to go every day. KU is a place where every student can be who they truly are, and express themselves through singing, dancing, acting and art. The journey that a student takes each summer participating in KU helps them build confidence, self-esteem, self-worth, respect and the opportunity to be proud of their accomplishments. KU is a positive, uplifting and magical organization where every student who participates is a star! Kids Unlimited truly helps make dreams a reality and that is why my brothers and I feel so passionate about this special KU Reimagined Revival!
Kyle Thurmond: For as long as I could remember, I would tell my brothers that one day, when we were able to take over KU, we would do our best to create Broadway-quality Regional Youth Theatre for the Redding community. It is more than just a company to me. It was, and still is, the safest place to grow up, where I felt that I could be myself as a kid and as an adult. It is a place where I feel artistically free to create top quality productions for our hometown community. I hope to sprinkle the seeds of Musical Theatre inspiration to people of all ages in this new generation of KU Productions. My hope is that KU performers will feel confident to go out into the world and express themselves in a positive light with a hard work ethic, and true, loving character. In Kids Unlimited, we accept everyone! Everyone is welcome here! I am so excited to express myself as a Director and inspire this new generation of KU Cast Members by teaching them what I have learned throughout my career performing in Los Angeles and overseas. It is an honor and privilege to bring this company back bigger and better than ever!
Matthew Thurmond: "If a child can’t learn the way we teach them, maybe we should teach the way they learn." I feel that Kids Unlimited does just that with so many different types of learning abilities. Carrying on the legacy of Kids Unlimited to the next generation of kids is so important and means so much to me. This program gave me the tools to have the confidence and knowledge to further my performing career after high school and college. Almost 20 years later, I have made a career and living from singing, dancing and acting around the world. It was never a question of “can we do this and bring KU back to life again?” It all came down to our love for the Redding community and the impact that this organization has had throughout the years. This is why my brothers and I must bring KU back and carry on the legacy of this program. The three of us want to share our careers, experiences, and talents with everyone in Shasta County. “Music has the power to make us smile, and bring us all types of tears. It can carry us back in time, and inspire us to dance in the moment.” That is what KU means to me. It is not my duty, but my honor, to take Kids Unlimited to the next level and continue to inspire kids and adults in and around Shasta County.
As we make our way through this global crisis, what are your hopes for the future of the arts?
Our hopes for the future are to continue our Kids Unlimited's summer conservatory and performance encounter and to continue to get bigger and better each year to bring Broadway back to the Redding and North State communities. We hope to continue our KU experiences for our performers throughout the school year with professional training in singing, dancing and acting with our performance troupe, Christmas and Spring productions so that we can offer the KU experience year-round.
We hope to get more community support so that we can continue to thrive and bring professional talent and instructors from out of town to teach our enrichment classes, choreograph, and musical direct. Our hopes for the industry is for every theatre company to thrive like this and to be able to reach every child, teen, and young adult possible. We want all Broadway shows to continue to be accessible to all communities and families, like televised productions, so that people can experience theatre from their own homes, communities and cities. We are here to support, encourage, and enrich each other in the Arts both in the Redding community and throughout the nation.
What role does Kids Unlimited play in helping to unify its community?
Kids Unlimited Institute of the Arts admits students of any race, color, sexual orientation, nationality or ethnic origin. We believe in uniting kids, teens, young adults, and communities together not only create the best show possible, but to also bring awareness, acceptance, love, light, and a safe place for all types of talents to grow together. KU is a place where, without unity, the organization would not be as successful as it has been for the past 30 years. It is not just about the big productions that we put together at the end of the summer. It is also about the journey throughout the six-week rehearsal process that each performer experiences.
Can you tell us how we can learn more about the programs that MTA offers?
We have a multitude of programs for all ages and experience levels. For more information please visit us at http://www.KUPerformingArts.org
Kyle Thurmond, CEO & Artistic Director of Kids Unlimited Institute of the Arts
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