In 1996, actor James "Jimmy" Nixon moved to Seattle to raise his family. That change of scene led to a new career as he developed Broadway Bound Children's Theatre to introduce children to the joys of performing in musical theater. Thousands of local children have passed through the company’s various classes and productions since then.
“My children were six and eight when we moved back to Seattle from Los Angeles and what we wanted for our children to experience (in theater classes) wasn’t available,” recalled Nixon, who appeared in numerous television series during his California years. “This was an opportunity to create something that was needed and do something that I feel very passionately about – insuring the next generation of performers and audiences.”
Broadway Bound's combination of classes ending in fully staged productions proved a hit with children and their parents from the beginning. Approximately 15,000 children have participated in their programs over the last eighteen years, said Nixon.
"Inclusivity is our mission. We don’t turn anyone away. We realize the kids that need this most can’t afford it,” said Nixon about the company’s scholarship and special needs programs. “I have huge program, 90 children, that are children with autism.”
He’s also worked with numerous local schools to encourage them to take full advantage of their facilities and personnel.
“Most schools have a stage, a music teacher, or a drama teacher,” Nixon pointed out. “We try to create a desire at the schools to encourage musical theater programs. We’ll spend a lot of time with the faculty to create a program.” In 2007, his production of Dreamgirls opened the dormant Paul Robeson Performing Arts Center, capping off a concentrated effort to bring theater and theater classes to the underserved children of South Seattle.
Part of Nixon’s early inspiration for Broadway Bound was Village Theatre’s KidStage. He “picked the brains” of Village's executive producer Robert Hunt about how such programs worked. These days, Nixon is encouraged to see many other theaters now offering more classes and experiences for their youngest audience members.
Putting kids on stage helps bring their families into the audience, he said, whether it is one of Broadway Bound’s productions or something like 5th Avenue Theatre’s recent mounting of Oliver! (which featured a number of Broadway Bound children, Nixon noted).
This type of synergy helps strengthen and buoy the entire theater scene in Seattle, he said. “The theater community today is embracing the children. It was hard to find people to work with the kids in the first few years, but now they realize they have to nurture our next generation so that there are more kids interested in live performances.”
Today, local talent regularly shows up to teach classes and inspire his students. “We have been fortunate to have actors like Louis Hobson (now artistic director of Balagan Theatre) teach. Patricia Barker (former Pacific Northwest Ballet principal dancer) and (Seattle choreographer) Sonia Dawkins worked on shows. We’ve been able surround our kids with absolute cream of the crop here,” he said.
Nixon’s daughter Ryah, who graduated from Broadway Bound to acting at the Village and 5th Avenue Theatre, also has her own career on Broadway, been on national musical tours, and sang for a concept album of a musical based on the life of Lizzie Borden. She and local actor Andrew Brewer recently spent a day with Broadway Bound cast of Legally Blonde, giving the young actors some tips.
Her father enjoyed having his daughter visit and share her professional experiences with his students. He also follows the adventures of his other “alumni” in the local and national musical theater scene.
“It’s quite remarkable to watch that next generation,” said Nixon. “They are all over the country right now.”
Broadway Bound Children's Theatre offers classes and full productions of popular shows year round. This month, Legally Blonde the Musical opens Jan. 31 and runs through Feb. 9 at Shoreline Conference Center, 18560 1st Ave NE, Shoreline.