The Reeder School, a renowned children's theater school headed by artists Flora (Blanc) and Dickson Reeder, flourished in Fort Worth from 1945 to 1958. Each year sixty to eighty students aged four to fourteen studied speech, pantomime, dance, and painting in order to prepare for the annual play (usually a story adapted from classical literature or Shakespearean comedy) that featured lavish sets, costumes, and period music. For eight months students immersed themselves in the history of the period in which the play was written, and learned the movements, expressions, and gestures appropriate for the play. As a result they brought a deep understanding to the play that is unusual in children's theater.
The Reeder School's program was modeled after the King-Coit School of Theatre and Design in New York, which Flora Blanc Reeder had attended as a child. The school grew out of a project for a class she took with Lorraine Sherley at Texas Christian University in the spring of 1945-the direction of twenty children in a performance of the medieval romance Aucassin and Nicolete. The school was incorporated in the fall of 1945. Flora Reeder researched classical literature and music to find appropriate subjects for the school projects. She also led acting and mime classes and directed the students in the annual plays. Dickson Reeder designed the sets and costumes and taught painting at the school. Jane Crawford Jenkins taught dance at the school for ten years.
Among the memorable plays produced were The Rose and the Ring (1946), adapted from a fairy tale by William Makepeace Thackery; Kai Khosru (1947), adapted from Persian literature; and The Happy Hypocrite (1952), a play adapted by Flora Reeder from a story by Sir Max Beerbohm. The students also performed Shakespearean such comedies as A Midsummer Night's Dream (1948, 1953) and The Tempest (1949). In the Elizabethan drama The Knight of the Burning Pestle the score for accompaniment by flute, cello, and harpsichord included a sword dance and hornpipe from a late-sixteenth-century opera by Henry Purcell. Leon Varkas from the Metropolitan Opera Ballet in New York City worked with Flora Reeder to choreograph The Tempest and Lady Precious Stream (1950). Hans David, Lucas Foss, and David Graham composed original music for various productions. Such Fort Worth artists as Cynthia Brants, Bror Utter, Evaline Sellors, George Grammer, Sam Cantey, and McKie Trotter, frequently assisted Dickson Reeder in painting and sculpting lavish sets from his designs.
Initially classes were held in Temple Beth El, but the school moved during the first year to a log cabin behind the William J. Bailey home on White Settlement Road. In 1953 the Reeder School moved to the red-brick Derringer mansion at 1402 Summit. Support was provided by local artists, parents, and an advisory board of interested community members. The plays were staged at increasingly larger venues, from Paschal High School to the Texas Christian University theater to the Majestic Theater in downtown Fort Worth.
The Reeder School productions, heralded as "gems of children's theater," won national recognition through articles in such magazines as Life and Glamour. However, the demanding program left the Reeders little time to paint. In 1958 they closed the school for a two-year sabbatical in Paris, where Flora Reeder took mime classes with Marcel Marceau and Dickson Reeder prepared for a large show at the Fort Worth Art Center (now the Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth). Subsequent attempts to reopen the school were hampered by the need for a new location (the Derringer home had been demolished) and by Dickson Reeder's poor health. In 1981, eleven years after her husband's death, Flora Reeder began to offer classes on a smaller scale and produced A Midsummer Night's Dream, Aucassin and Nicolete, and the Hindu play Nala and Damayanti from the Mahabharata. In 1988 Texas Christian University mounted a retrospective exhibition of over 200 costumes, photographs, and set and costume designs that document the virtuosity of the Reeder School plays as well as a documentary film done by José Pavon of their production of The Tempest and the many activities of the school.