Community Players establish annual award in honor of Children’s Theatre director

Karen Braz, co-founder of the Community Players’ Children’s TheatreProject receives her award named for her after 29 years of bringing Children’s Theatre to Concord.

Karen Braz, co-founder of the Community Players’ Children’s TheatreProject receives her award named for her after 29 years of bringing Children’s Theatre to Concord. Courtesy

A cast of current and past Children’s Theatre Project campers in a full-
scale post-pandemic musical revue in October, 2021 called “All Together Now.”

A cast of current and past Children’s Theatre Project campers in a full- scale post-pandemic musical revue in October, 2021 called “All Together Now.” Courtesy—

Children’s Theatre Project director Karen Braz is overwhelmed at the
announcement of an award established in her name. Photo by Kirsten Smith.

Children’s Theatre Project director Karen Braz is overwhelmed at the announcement of an award established in her name. Photo by Kirsten Smith. Courtesy—

Published: 06-18-2024 11:57 AM

Karen Braz was already a long-time member and performer with The Community Players of Concord, NH when, in the late 1980s, she raised the idea of expanding the group to include a children’s theatre.

“I was at Bob and Phyllis Stuart’s house and I was talking about this idea for a children’s theatre and this pall fell over the room,” said the energetic Karen Braz, humorously recalling when she first approached the Community Players about starting the Children’s Theatre Project. She subsequently sent the group a video of a show she directed for the Junior Service League which helped persuade them.

By 1996, the Players were well on their way to building their own rehearsal studio in East Concord and Braz’s quest to offer theatre programming for children finally became a reality. Under Braz’s direction, the group’s newly formed Children’s Theatre Project, began with The Wind In The Willows, featuring a cast of young actors ages 8 to14 performing at Concord’s now-defunct Annicchiarico Theatre. Since then, “CTP” has presented a fully produced play or musical every fall (now at Concord City Auditorium) with the exception of pandemic year 2020.

Since the beginning, Karen and her team have offered a Winter Vacation Theatre Camp, where young thespians spend five days rehearsing shorter adaptations of shows, with a pizza party for the cast and a free on-stage performance for family, friends and the community. For the past ten years, CTP has also offered a similar Summer Theatre Camp every August. The number of children who have been involved in the plays, musicals and camp productions directed by Braz is at this point almost incalculable.

The average Concord area resident may or may not be familiar with community theatre shows generally, but one need not go far to find someone who will perk up at mention of the name “Karen” as they fondly recall the positive theatre experiences their children or grandchildren have had with CTP over the decades. The 25th Anniversary of the Children’s Theatre Project occurred during the pandemic, leaving the Community Players with little opportunity to recognize and celebrate the occasion as they felt it – and Karen Braz – truly deserved.

When a board member recently suggested creating an annual award in her name to recognize above-and-beyond support for the Children’s Theatre Project, the response was instant and unanimous approval. The annual award, called the “Karen Braz Children’s Theatre Project Award,” was first presented at the Players Annual Meeting on Saturday, June 8, and the first recipient of the award was, of course, Karen Braz.

Ellen Burger, Community Players president, was thrilled to present the award to Braz on behalf of the Players. “In my opinion, the positive impact of children’s theatre on the children it serves – both those on stage and in the audience - cannot be overstated.” Burger says. “We are immensely proud of and thankful for CTP’s work and hope this annual award will serve as an enduring testament to Karen’s remarkable contributions and as inspiration for the dedicated adults who devote their talents to supporting children’s theatre.”

Kevin Belval, who has supported the technical aspects of countless CTP shows, commented, “Working with Karen for nearly two decades I have had the firsthand opportunity to see her impact on the youth in our community. She has helped countless kids achieve everything from overcoming stage fright to pursuing a living in the performing arts. The Community Players are lucky to have had such an impactful person working in this area all these years.”

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In the fall of 2021, Braz took time out from directing to be interviewed by ConcordTV. “Over the years, there are people who look at me like I’ve got nine heads because I work with kids,” Braz said. “No. Don’t even think that. They are great to work with and they are the future. If you want patrons of the arts, if you want actors, if you want techies – this is where they start.” In a sudden reflective mode, the director recalled, “There are kids for whom this niche is really important. There was this one little boy, at the Anniccharico – I’m not sure what camp we were doing – and he looks up at me and he goes, ‘This is the best night of my life!’ ” Braz laughs as she tells the story but adds, “often you don’t realize until years later, when kids come back and tell you how much it meant to them.”

Braz was stunned and grateful when the award was announced at Community Players’ Annual Meeting, but she is not resting on her laurels, as the work continues. The Children’s Theatre Project Summer Camp is fully subscribed with forty campers enrolled and will present Sister Act, Jr., on Friday, August 9, at 6:30 p.m. Admission is free and no tickets are required.

CTP’s 29th season marches forward in the fall and with Charlotte’s Web on October 18 at 7 p.m. and 19 at 2 p.m. Tickets will be available at the Players website later this summer. Both shows are at Concord City Auditorium. Information about the Community Players’ Children’s Theatre Project can be found at communityplayersofconcord.org.