101 Stories: Kari and Chris Stewart

By The Children's Theatre

Celebrate TCT’s 101st season as it comes to a close as we applaud and appreciate those who contributed to the organization’s magic throughout our century-long journey.  During 10 weeks of recognition, we honor individuals who have been instrumental in the success of TCT, and who have not only helped TCT grow in mission, but also thrive, thanks to their passion.  It is these people and their moments in our history that shaped TCT to become what it is today. We encourage you to consider giving a gift in their honor to ensure the sustainability of TCT’s mission for the next 100+ years. 

Chris Stewart as Peter Pan and Kari Stewart as Wendy in TCT’s production of Disney’s Peter Pan JR. (2011)

TCT has brought many people together through its 101 years, including couples that met WHILE performing. Kari and Chris Stewart are one of those couples. The two started dating when he was cast as Peter Pan and she was cast as Wendy in TCT’s 2011 production of DISNEY’S PETER PAN JR., proving the show’s famous quote to be true: “All you need is faith, trust and a little bit of pixie dust!”

Mrs. Stewart is currently taking a break from her job as a teacher at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center as she just gave birth to the family’s second child.

Mr. Stewart serves as Director of National Strategy for Kids’ Club at Crossroads Church and is a member of the Kids’ Club Creative Team, which creates kid-friendly, biblical content for weekend experiences and training purposes.  

Besides acting with TCT, Chris wrote shows including: Mrs. Claus Saves the DayIn the Shadows of Edison: The Nikola Tesla StoryThe Frederick Douglass Story, and Mozart’s Sister, among others. In addition, he directed The Night Before ChristmasIn the Shadows of Edison: The Nikola Tesla Story, The Sword in the StoneThe Rosa Parks StoryRumpelstiltskinThe Ugly DucklingHarriet Tubman and the Train to Freedom, and Aesop’s Fables. Mr. Stewart also served as the Associate Artistic Director ArtReach, now known as TCT On Tour, plus taught in-school TCT WorkShops, Residencies, as well as acting and script analysis classes with TCT Academy.


We caught up with the couple to find out more about their TCT experience.

HOW DID YOU GET INVOLVED WITH TCT?

Kari: “I grew up on The Children’s Theatre. I went to field trips to see shows. Every year, starting when my sister was in elementary school. I wasn’t eligible to go on the field trips yet but my mom would bring me along with her. So I was about three or four years old when I started going to see the shows. My favorite part was always after the show, when the actors came out on stage, ending the Q&A’s, and introducing themselves. I was like — oh my gosh, there are kids in this cast! I was just so fixated by the idea that you could be a kid and be a part of this.”

“I would tell my mom — I’m going to be up there one day, and she was like  — OK Kari, sure. And I auditioned year after year and got told no, no, no, no and finally I got in for STAR and just fell in love with performing; but also the community of people; the other kids my age. And once I got in, I never really wanted to get out because it was such a positive experience for me and I felt like I had finally found my niche. 

Chris: “I had just graduated with a degree in theatre and The Children’s Theatre tour was my first job. I had never been to Cincinnati and I moved here sight unseen. And did the tour for a year and then shortly after that was offered a position on staff. I’m still very grateful for the experience and the opportunities. Honestly, I was so young and inexperienced that it’s amazing to me that I was trusted with the responsibility of directing and writing and performing in shows and teaching, but it sharpened me in so many ways as a storyteller, as a young professional. Yeah, I’m still grateful for the lessons that I learned. The process of producing work at The Children’s Theatre was very fun too.”

“And then the way we came together. I was cast in PETER PAN as the title role. She played Wendy and so that’s how we got close — in the rehearsal process for that show. We met before that, but that’s when we started dating.”

WHAT DO YOU MISS? 

Chris: “There are many things I miss about TCT.  Even now, in my work in ministry, a lot of my work takes the form of storytelling — for videos that we put online or doing voice overs. But the thing that I miss about live theatre, specifically the rehearsal process of live theatre, is that feeling of being in a room with people of a wide range of ages and backgrounds, and you’re all collaborating and you’re all working together.”

“When you as an actor discover something that’s really funny and fresh, the delight of the director and the stage manager and the other performers in the show is incredibly fulfilling. When you’re looking across the room and you see Local 12’s Bob Herzog roll over laughing… you think to yourself  — That’s awesome. I just made Bob Herzog laugh!”

Kari: “I just really miss being at the theater. The smell of the theater, when you walk in and the lights are hitting your face, the costumes, the goings-on backstage that you’re privy to, but nobody else in the audience knows what’s going on. It’s a whole show back there with the quick changes and the scenery moving and things that go wrong… Just to be a part of it feels so magical. And I miss that feeling of being at the theater and feeling like I’m a part of something that brings so many people joy.”

WHY IS TCT IMPORTANT TO YOU? 

Kari: “TCT changed the trajectory of my life. I found my husband and started my family because of the roots that were planted by going to see a Children’s Theatre show for a field trip.

Then as a performer, specifically as a child performer, I felt like I learned so many valuable lessons about responsibility, dependability, maturity, being a young person that adults want to be around! I learned valuable lessons like how to be hirable and marketable and likable. 

I don’t think that I would have learned all of that had I not been involved with The Children’s Theatre.”

“I learned so much self-discipline and learned about being able to take criticism — all of those things which are so good for growth. If you have a future in theatre, those are good skills to learn, but these are all skills to have in your back pocket in the future as an adult!”

Chris: “I’d say theatre is a one-stop-shop for three really critical things that we need for the young generation. 

  1. We want creativity for them. 
  2. We want diversity for them.
  3. And we want empathy for them.

And these are all things that you can’t download. You can’t just like instruct a kid to “go be creative.” These are all things that have to be experienced in order to be valued and cultivated. So I’d say, my definition of theatre is that it’s the combination of all art forms. There’s acting, music, dance. The scenery has been painted. There’s architecture and engineering. There’s vocal performance. There’s physical performance. There’s sound design and lighting.  It is the combination of all art forms. And so if we want to expose children, in a positive way, to the arts and creativity, TCT offers an experience of all of those things…and in an hour.”

“Diversity.  Theatre is such a human thing. Every human culture in the world develops some form of theatre to tell stories and to share lessons, and to just to delight in each other. I think we lose that opportunity to have kids be around different kinds of people when all we do is screen-based things in isolation, which I know for the last year has kind of been unavoidable. But when you’re in the same room with 2,000 people who all look, believe, and think different from you… all watching someone on stage make them laugh…that’s a unifying experience. And it’s so valuable.”

“And along with that goes empathy for the performer who’s trying to walk in somebody else’s shoes, as well as for the kid in the seats. They can relate to things better after watching stories unfold on stage. That’s empathy.”

“TCT is truly a place where kids can experience creativity, diversity and empathy in a way that no other institution or art form can.”

Would you honor Kari and Chris Stewart with a gift to recognize the impact made on TCT?