What appears to be a dance classroom for Evansville Ballet is now the imaginary world of Neverland. Those students, lost boys, singing with their leader Peter Pan.

Steering the Jolly Roger at that moment, Children’s Theatre of Southern Indiana CEO Jennifer Dalto.

“I love children. I love seeing them conquer their fears. I love seeing them have those a-ha moments.”

It’s the passion to teach children that led Jennifer and her family to open the D’alto Studio of Performing Arts in 2009 after years of offering voice lessons and classes. After the studio closed, Jennifer opened the non-profit Children’s Theatre of Southern Indiana in the Fall of 2017. The only one of its kind in the area.

“They need that creative space that says ‘it’s okay, go for it, imagine.’ said Dalto. “Kids are natural storytellers.”

Through CTSI, children of all ages enroll in classes teaching skills in acting, musical theatre, developing characters and strengthening the voice.

“It encourages children to fail forward,” said Dalto. “To try, to experiment and to do that together in a classroom they get permission from each other. They risk in front of each other.”

As the classes teach kids skills, those skills are put into practice through several musicals and plays a year. When the pandemic hit in March of 2020, CTSI like so many organizations was forced to pivot. Slowly classes and productions like this summer’s Peter Pan are returning in person.

“We need entertainment, we need to be inspired,” said Dalto. “We long to be inspired. And then we also long for that connection. Especially with theatre kids you’re used to being a part of that family, that tribe.”

A part of that tribe, Jennifer’s daughters, Amelia and Laura, who is directing Peter Pan, passing on lessons learned to a new generation.

As rehearsals ramp up, Jennifer and her staff prepare children in the community not only for the stage, but for life.

“Teaching kids the skills they are going to use in their daily lives, in their schools, in their jobs,” said Dalto. “I think if you check theatre kids do really well in every line of work.”