In the 2002 Miss America pageant, Scarlotte Deupree Kilgore sang “Holding Out for a Hero.” However, as a leader in Birmingham’s nonprofit world since a young age, we think she’s the one who takes on the role of hero. Scarlotte currently serves as executive director of the Birmingham Children’s Theatre (BCT), where she blends her longstanding passions for service, education and the performing arts. As the organization dives into its 70th year of serving thousands of Birmingham’s children through theater, Scarlotte has an exciting vision for how BCT will continue to accomplish its mission. Today, she talks about the importance of the arts in education, what she learned from competing in Miss America and her secret introversion. It’s our pleasure to feature Scarlotte as this week’s FACE of Birmingham!
Tell us about your career background.
After graduating from college at Samford University, I moved to Washington D.C. to pursue graduate work in communications. For two years, I worked in the periodical gallery as the media liaison and coordinator for the Senate. Then I moved back to Birmingham and got busy being in the community again. I never thought I would be back in a traditional work environment, but the executive director opportunity at BCT became available, and it was a perfect fit. I grew up going to BCT — I actually had my eighth birthday party there — and served as a volunteer for a while. Having small children myself now, I have a unique perspective on my work. I’m able to see what children respond to in theatre.
How is Birmingham Children’s Theatre unique?
We’re one of the oldest children’s theaters in the entire country — and we’re here in Birmingham! Most theaters exist for students’ enjoyment on the weekends, but BCT is primarily an education destination for schools. Over the course of the year, in both tours and in-house performances, we serve about 200,000 children. Seeing that many children and knowing you can have that kind of educational impact is incredible.
What’s a work project that you’re especially proud of?
This past season, we’ve added a program called Theatre Lab. I developed the idea of taking the art that we put on stage and combining it with science, technology, engineering, art and mathematics (STEAM). We have a 10- or 20-minute exercise that combines an aspect of STEAM with what the children learn about in the story. For example, we took math and taught it through the four counts of dance in an African folk performance. I’ve also watched children as young as second-graders understand the theory of relativity after our Theatre Lab performance of Einstein Is a Dummy. If you can teach children to think creatively and introduce big concepts through a creative lens, it’ll stay in their memory.
What has been your recent focus as executive director?
This year, we’ve increased the number of people that we’re serving by 18 percent. It’s my goal, through corporate donations and other partnerships, to give away 10 percent of the capacity that we have on the main stage to underserved schools. We’re also launching a “Thank You” campaign for our supporters in Birmingham, by giving free tickets to our current performance of James and the Giant Peach that will close our season. I’m also focused on celebrating our 70th anniversary, which is a huge accomplishment. Next year, we will have spent 70 years educating, enriching and entertaining children.
Why do you think it’s so crucial to include the arts in education?
Its importance is in our mission statement — Educate, Enrich and Entertain. Art statistics prove over and over again that students who participate in the arts perform better than those who don’t. They’re taught to think more creatively. To me, the arts is something that isn’t just an extra addition, but it’s a critical component of education. Forty percent of the children we see at BCT are from underserved areas; our theatre is an incredible way to reach children who wouldn’t have this art education exposure any other way. We also develop 40-page study guides, written by teachers, for each performance. When educators come to the performances, we provide a classroom packet explaining the author’s background and the performance’s themes so teachers can continue class discussions after the performance is over.
You won Miss Alabama in 2002 and became runner-up for Miss America the following year. What’s the biggest lesson you learned from your time competing?
The service and scholarship component is a huge piece of Miss America. This helped me establish a service role in the community from a very early age. My platform was adult literacy, and I made over 270 speaking appearances during that time. Being able to know that, even at an early age, when you are passionate about something, one person can make a difference. My work with Miss America prepared me for my role as executive director, especially being able to tell the story of BCT.
What do you like most about Birmingham?
I went to Samford here and met my husband around that time. We both knew we wanted to eventually come back to Birmingham and raise a family. So, we didn’t just “end up” back here; we consciously chose to come back. There’s so much excitement and revitalization that’s going on in Birmingham, and people are putting a lot of effort back into the city. It’s a different place than it was even 10 or 12 years ago. It’s also an exciting place to raise children.
Do you have any favorite hidden gems?
Honestly, BCT is a great hidden gem! We’ve been here so long that people sometimes forget we’re here.
Do you have a mentor or role model, and if so why do you admire them or what have they taught you?
When I took this position, Suzanne Durham agreed to be a mentor for me. She’s a force in Birmingham’s nonprofit world. I admire the way she grew the YWCA — the tenacity, the vision and the heart she gave to that role is incredible. She’s been a lifesaver and someone I can call with the most mundane questions through my strategic planning for the organization. And to have another woman as a mentor is crucial.
If you could go back 10 or even 20 years, what advice would you give yourself?
Not to take myself too seriously. At age 15, things are never as good or as bad as you think.
If you could have any superhuman power, what would it be?
I would love to go back in time. I’m a huge history buff, so I’d love to see things as they really were.
What is something people might be surprised to know about you?
I’m an introvert. And socially awkward. I would much rather be reading a book at home most of the time — that’s my happy place.
What are three material things that you can’t live without?
Diet Mountain Dew, my cell phone and concealer.
Thank you, Scarlotte! To learn more about Scarlotte’s work at the Birmingham Children’s Theatre, visit bct123.org.
Thank you to Eric and Jamie Gay of Eric & Jamie Photography for the fabulous photos of Scarlotte at the Birmingham Children’s Theatre at the BJCC downtown.