Cameron Prevatte, left, and Phoebe Dillard perform in NCTYP’s ‘Hansel and Gretel’ at Jones Elementary.

For many kids, especially those in rural communities, The North Carolina Theatre for Young People (NCTYP) is their only exposure to live theater. That’s why NCTYP, based at UNCG and celebrating its 50th anniversary this year, is so vital.

Since its start in 1962, NCTYP has reached well over one million kids with formal, on-campus stage productions and touring shows that have gone as far as rural Maryland and Washington, D.C. The touring shows alone touch more than 15,000 kids every year.

“It’s about reaching out to them, coming into their space,” Rachel Briley, NCTYP director, says of the tours, which go into schools, museums and other local venues. “It’s a gesture that says, ‘You matter so much to us that we want to come to you.’ I’ve had actors say to me that shows came into their schools when they were young, and that inspired them to pursue acting as a career.”

NCTYP stages two shows each season. The contemporary hit “Junie B. in Jingle Bells, Batman Smells!” and the E.B. White classic “Charlotte’s Web” are on tap this season.

A 50th anniversary party, open to the community, follows the first performance of “Junie B.” on Saturday, Nov 10. As with most NCTYP shows, “Junie B.” plays in Taylor Theatre on campus, with special weekday performances for school groups and additional shows for families. A smaller touring production, pared down for portability and flexibility, travels by bus.

Get free tickets for the 7:30 p.m. performance of “Junie B.” on Nov. 10 by donating cans of food. NCTYP will distribute the canned goods to area food banks.

Briley says “Junie B.,” based on a popular series of children’s books, is a fun and festive choice to celebrate NCTYP’s anniversary and the upcoming holiday season.

“We really want to embrace the earlier spirit of NCTYP and reach the contemporary audience of today,” she says. “There’s such name recognition with the Junie B. series and this is a great story about the meaning of giving.”

NCTYP got its start through a partnership between UNCG and the Junior League of Greensboro. UNCG theater professors Herman Middleton and Tom Behm, formerly director of NCTYP, spearheaded the founding of NCTYP, initially called Pixie Playhouse, which debuted in 1962 with an adaptation of Hans Christian Andersen’s “The Red Shoes.”

Recognizing that long tradition of producing high-quality shows for kids, the North Carolina Theatre Conference chose NCTYP to receive its 2011 Constance Welsh Theatre for Youth Award. NCTYP receives the award, given to one Theatre for Youth company in North Carolina each year, during the anniversary party.

Briley attributes the award to NCTYP’s commitment to “honoring the whole child” with its productions.

“Children are incredibly complex, incredibly sophisticated,” she says. “We embrace the complexity of the child; we don’t dumb it down. There’s a lot of nuance and subtlety in our shows.”

The touring shows include classroom workshops, and NCTYP designs and publishes study guides for all of its productions. Kids learn theater etiquette and critical thinking skills in addition to the simple pleasure of experiencing a good story.

Adapting to various performance spaces and connecting with their young audiences is both a challenge and a perk for NCTYP actors.

“With children, you get immediate feedback, and they are 100 percent honest,” Briley says. “When they are engaged, they have such a genuine response to theater. The actor has so much more to work with.”

Photography by Chris English, University Relations