Next Gen Events

2023/24 Next Gen events coming soon!

Past Next Gen Events

The Lightning Thief

Grades 6 - 8

Any pre-teen or teenager itching for a worthy adventure on a routing Monday most certainly go it when Next Gen wrapped its 202-23 academic year season with a musical rendition of The Lightning Thief, brought to the Center from TheaterWorksUSA.

This high-energy, innovative production of Rick Riordan’s Greek-mythology-meets-modern-day-teendom tale, kept two full houses engrossed and inspired. From minotaurs to satyrs, Medusa to Dionysus, Camp Half Blood to the underworld, and all the Poseidon, Kronos, and Athena in between, this show was a treat. Talk about a mythological accomplishment!


Interlochen Arts Academy's Cinderella

Grade 5 - 8

First-time ballet goers and seasoned ballet lovers alike were mesmerized by Cinderella, retold under the creative and impeccable eye of Joseph Morrissey, Director of Dance at Interlochen Center for the Arts.

Costumes were full of color, beauty, and life, and they told stories themselves; custom- and hand-made costumes stitched together with hope in the dark arrived from Ukraine and costumes decades-old from English theater were included in this feast for the eyes.

The ballet wielded humor through the two stepsisters, who were far more bumbling than evil, and there was a lightness of heart that permeated the performance right to the end, with larger-than-life, blue-lit fairy wings and a carriage drawn across the stage to its happily-ever-after in a celebration of bubbles.

The afternoon school matinee brought more than 500 students, the majority of whom were experiencing their very first ballet! And the nspiration drawn from students watching other students perform with such professionalism and artistry was palpable.

This family-oriented, story-telling ballet made a rigorous, challenging, and often intimidating art form accessible and relatable without giving up its own technical rigor and impressive execution. The evening performance brought together several generations, and both performances masterfully invited the audiences into an experience of pure joy and escape.

Study Guide



Great Lakes Chamber Orchestra Presents: Shackleton’s Incredible Journey

Grades 7 - 9

If a talented individual is capable of innovating a new this or a new that, just imagine what a creation can grow from a collaboration of talented individuals! If you want to see what that looks like in person, check out the Great Lakes Chamber Orchestra’s Legends and Mysteries Series! Their 2023 production, Shackleton’s Incredible Journey, highlighted not just the talent of the Orchestra’s musicians, but revealed a complex, highly collaborative, and powerful multi-artistic creation featuring Little Traverse Civic Theater actors and director, Bob Brill; archival and modern still and video images; an innovative set design; and programmatic music arranged and directed by Maestro Libor Ondras.

The event was an impressive production of multiple moving parts and diverse opportunities to be moved by the leadership, loyalty, and resilience of the Shackleton story. And that would have been more than enough to inspire us, but add to that another layer of collaboration focused on students and curriculum; the Great Lakes Chamber Orchestra created and freely shared multiple, well-designed learning resources, including the highlighting of points of intersection between Michigan educational standards and the performance itself. But the collaboration continued! In order to reach students in our 5-county region, the Great Lakes Chamber Orchestra worked with Next Gen to bring over 500 students to the Great Lakes Center for the Arts for a fantastic matinee experience! 

The power of collaboration was on full display Friday, January 27, as students and patrons alike were treated to multiple modes of experiencing the powerful, true story of Ernest Shackleton’s journey to the South Pole. What could have been a successful stand alone concert or a successful theatrical production became an inspiring event that touched and inspired people in multiple ways through the power of the performing arts. Next Gen is grateful and honored to have been a part of this innovative and ambitious production. Congratulations to the GLCO for a creative, collaborative job exceedingly well done!

It's Okay to Be Different - Stories by Todd Parr

Grades PreK - 3 

If you enjoy Todd Parr books or are just an awesome human being, there’s no way to not love It’s Okay to be Different! With its mesmerizing, UV-lit and larger-than-life, two-dimensional puppet magic and beautiful original score, this captivating, book-based show from Mermaid Theater Nova Scotia brought visual art and a powerfully positive message to early elementary students from across Northern Michigan! Narration was brilliantly recorded by an indigenous reader and elementary school children, so the positive and empowering messages were layered with positive and empowering voices. The visual art and puppet choreography stole the show, which was perfectly paced to allow students time to revel in the visual message punctuated as it was with Todd Parr’s well-placed, minimalist verbal messages. This felt like a trip to an art gallery, a dance studio, a concert, and a play all in one amazing performance!

Students were dancing in their seats, clapping and laughing with joy, as they were brought into three of Todd Parr’s books: This is My Hair, The Earth Book, and It’s Okay to be Different. Mermaid Theater spent three years designing and building 120 puppets and puppetry elements – matched to Todd Parr book illustrations right down to paint hues! – for this exceptional 3-actor production. Everyone wanted another show; once was definitely not enough!

After the show, the actors took time to answer eager students’ questions about how the puppets work, what makes the paints glow, and how only 3 actors can make all those puppet elements move across the stage, up in the air, and all around! This kind of wonderful is what happens when time, commitment to craft, and kindness converge. What a fantastic experience! Thank you, Mermaid Theater of Nova Scotia – you inspired us all!

Human[kind] Cinema Series: The Book Thief

Middle and High School Students

The first Human[kind] Cinema Series sold out in three hours and stayed sold out despite Mother Nature forcing a reschedule!

A full house of middle and high school students from our 5-county region came together for the powerful cinematic story, The Book Thief, based on Martin Zusak’s book of the same name. Set in WWII Germany, the story’s nuanced consideration of character struggles and its consideration of what it means to belong were catalysts for students to explore their own senses of well-being, empathy, courage, and belonging.

This powerful new series returns November, 2023, with the film Hidden Figures and with generous support from the Charlevoix County Community Foundation’s Youth Advisory Committee. The Human[kind] Cinema Series was created to directly support teachers and students in addressing the Michigan Social and Emotional Learning (SEL) Competencies, which are integral for students’ positive mental health and for an inclusive, supportive, school environment.

Teachers continue to express gratitude that the Center is utilizing performing arts and curricular resources (pre- and post-film) to support schools’ efforts to address SEL standards. It takes the work of an entire community to raise happy, productive, kind adults ready to lead with courage, vision, and empathy; Next Gen is honored to play a small role in that essential work.

Junie B.'s Essential Survival Guide

Grades K - 3

Literature meets the stage meets oh-so-catchy tunes with Junie B’s Essential Survival Guide to School! Next Gen proudly kicked off its 2022-2023 season on October 24 with two sold-out shows of this creative, relatable show that reminds everyone how challenging and rewarding first grade can be.

Young students (grades K – 3) from five counties (Antrim, Charlevoix, Cheboygan, Emmet, and Otsego) were able to join us for an uplifting, teensy-bit raucous, incredibly witty event that saw Junie B. Jones come to life in her bestest, red-dressed, sassy way!

Collision of Rhythm

Middle and High School Students

Bronkar Lee and Aaron Grooves brought the rhythm and moves - and an inspiring dose of positivity! – to the stage for a matinee, a family evening performance, and an incredible student workshop in between!

High energy is an understatement for this dynamic duo, who deftly cover genres from jazz to hiphop to classical and prodigiously play a wide array of instruments from Native American flute to marimba, saxophone, drums, and, though it’s tough to decipher into which box it fits, beatboxing! These guys whipped up what felt like a 7-course meal of musical innovation, combining styles, talents and instrumentation I’m betting many of us had never even imagined – beatboxing while playing the flute?! Who knew?! And it sounded so cool, too!

Bronkar and Aaron worked on building community through body percussion during their student workshop, where kids were able to explore a combination of rhythm rule-following and percussive improv. These performances were just such fun and so creative; the audience could watch them shaping the act as the act unfolded.

Collision of Rhythm brought Northern Michigan a fantastic amalgam of brilliance, creativity, inspiration, warmth, kindness, and a bit of philosophy for good measure! This was a ton of summer family fun! What more can you ask for?!

Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus!

Pre-School through 2nd Grade 

Hundreds of pre-school through second-grade students from 15 regional schools alighted at the Center for the two soul-warming matinees of Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus! (The Musical!), based on the popular children’s book of the same name.

This free Next Gen event marked the first time GLCFA has hosted an event from The Kennedy Center. The performance definitely lived up to their reputation for all-out excellence in youth theater, from set design and lighting to author Mo Willems’ witticisms and genre-spanning music!

Pigeon’s colorful characters gave everyone someone to relate to, and the performers delivered a jazzy burst of positivity while sharing a powerful message of self-expression and finding one’s dreams while staying true to yourself.

The excitement in the crowd was as clear as Pigeon’s passion for driving the bus, and the enthusiasm was, similarly, palpable. Happiness and joy were everywhere – flying around like a super-hero bird in the air!

Warriors Don't Cry

Warriors Don't Cry


The Great Lakes Center for the Arts was pleased to welcome 485 students and chaperones from four school districts and three homeschool families to the venue for two matinee performances of Warriors Don’t Cry, a theatrical performance based on the memoir by Melba Patillo Beals, one of the Little Rock Nine in the mid-1950s.

The performance was a powerful monologue set inside a school, in which the actor embodied both a present-day 15-year-old and an elderly Melba Patillo Beals. Parallels were drawn between fighting to end mass shootings (particularly in schools) and fighting for black students’ rights to integrate into Central High in Little Rock, Arkansas, in the years 1954-1957.  

Copies of the Paul Fleischman book, Seedfolks, were given to every student and educator who attended, thanks to a generous donation from Fernanda Fisher and the Robert Jensen Dau Foundation.

School House Rock Live!

History, Science, Grammar
Elementary Students Attended

School House Rock Live brought history, science, and grammar to life for more than 1000 students and educators at two packed shows!

Fun and learning complement each other well, and this theatrical production of classic animated standbys from the 1970s reminded all of us how cool it is to know stuff!

An educator shared a story about an upper elementary student who, after the performance, said, “I LOVED IT!” The teacher’s heart was “warmed.. because this is a student who rarely gets excited about anything.”

The Center’s Dorothy Gerber Strings Program, led by Dr. David Reimer and Ms. Trisha Berquist, put on a beautiful and inspiring pre-show performance.

When it’s right, it’s just right. And Schoolhouse Rock Live! reminded everyone how right it is to have fun learning!

“We came back to school and had to take our weekly grammar test. One student turned in her paper and said, ‘that was easy! I kept singing the songs from Schoolhouse Rock, and it helped me know all the answers!’ And, it did! She scored 100%!”

Area Educator

Interlochen Ballet Romeo and Juliet

Middle and High School Students Attended

The Great Lakes Center for the Arts welcomed 300 middle and high school students to the venue for a special performance of the Interlochen Center for the Arts Academy Dance Division’s ballet interpretation of Romeo and Juliet.

For 75% of the students, this free Next Gen event was first the time they had ever experienced live ballet.

Students had glowing reviews about everything from the set design, talent, costuming, acting, choreography and the pre-performance introduction by Interlochen’s Director of Dance, Joseph Morissey.

An additional 100 Next Gen tickets were given to dance students and chaperones from studios across the region to join us at the Center for the evening show.

Students said, “Thank you for the wonderful ballet. It was a great moment for me, as it was the first ballet I have ever seen,” and “I was very pleased! The costumes, the acting were all so amazing. I have seen ballets before, but this one was different; I could feel the dancers’ emotions and the conflict was so real.”

The relationship between the GLCFA and Interlochen’s ballet performances is a very special one that we look forward to nurturing and sharing with regional students in the years ahead.

Bill Blagg's Magic Science Lab

Remote Elementary and Middle School Classroom

Illusionist Bill Blagg’s brand-new Magic Science Lab will have kids on the edge of their seats, in the classroom or at home, as they discover how science creates magic right before their very eyes! During this digital “Arts Engagement” viewers joined Bill inside the Magic Science Lab where they explored how magicians use the “secret” five-step process (The Scientific Method) to create their illusions! Together with Bill, they used the “secret” five steps to make a person magically float in mid-air! 


Walk On: The Story of Rosa Parks

7th & 8th Grades Attended

Nearly 1,000 middle school students learned important lessons about the nation’s civil rights movement through the musical, Walk On: The Story of Rosa Parks, at the Center.


Interlochen Ballet Sleeping Beauty

7th & 8th Grades Attended

I really liked the ballet because it was something that most of my students would never have had the opportunity to experience without your grant and program. I would love to have my students watch a musical also; our school no longer has a theater program.

Area Teacher



Click Clack Moo

Communication, Family & Relationships, Music
K To 2nd Grades Attended 

Over 1,000 kindergarten through second grade students enjoyed the musical Click Clack Moo, Cows That Type at the Center. Education Director Heather Russell visited all 17 attending schools in the week prior to read the Caldecott Award winning book and show students a now obsolete typewriter. 

Schools from Mackinaw City to Bellaire, Charlevoix to Inland Lakes and many in between were able to attend this Next Gen matinee offering free of charge, thanks to the generous family of donors who support the educational programming at the Center. One student gave the experience “10,000 thumbs up!” 

Lesson plans were provided to teachers that tied in with the state standards, and students learned about compromise and relationships in the “mooooving” and hilarious musical. 

McLean & Eakin Booksellers of Petoskey partnered with the Center to offer books for purchase to students, and several of their community patrons donated books which were given to every school.

Robert Jensen Dau Foundation

Mansfield Family Foundation

The Meijer Foundation

Michigan Council for Arts and Cultural Affairs/National Endowment for the Arts