Big Milestones for our Local Children’s Theaters
It’s been a challenging few years for arts in America. The woes began with the first-ever formal proposal by a sitting president to eliminate federal funding for the National Endowment for the Arts, the lifeblood for thousands of art programs throughout the nation. Then two years later, the world was struck by one of the worst public health crises seen in our lifetime: COVID-19. The coronavirus’ continued impact on the social, economic and even cultural fabric of our country will be felt for years to come, yet so will the stories and endeavors of those in the arts community.
During the darkest days of the pandemic, many of the organizations serving the area pivoted to virtual or hybrid programming.
They went above and beyond national health guidelines to bring back live performances, at times to just a handful of people. When the vaccine rollout finally materialized, those same organizations became experts on indoor ventilation, social distancing and contactless service. When the omicron variant hit, they adapted again.
Today, those “elastic” art programs and artists are celebrating major milestones in the life of their organizations, achieving their longevity due in no small part to their tenacious wills. Here are just a few examples.
Adventure Theatre 70th Anniversary Season, 2022-2023
In 1951, a group of women from the Community Arts Association’s drama classes founded Adventure Theatre and began Washington D.C.’s “longest-running organization for inspiring children to learn and love theatre.” Today, over 70 years later, Adventure Theatre & ATMTC continue to celebrate the “glorious richness of our world by cultivating Equity, Diversity, and Inclusivity” as they inspire creativity that nurtures great art, artists and audiences.
ATMTC’s popular elementary school classes give students in grades K-5 a well-rounded introduction to the wonderful world of musical theatre with courses such as Sing, Dance, Act, Broadway Prep and Bridge To Broadway. For students in middle and high school, there are secondary classes and conservatory classes for the budding “triple threats” in your family.
In January 2023, ATMTC hopes to relaunch its Pre-Professional Ensemble and “provide unparalleled training in musical theatre to [the] area’s most talented young artists.” Auditions will be held this fall.
Acting for Young People 25th Anniversary Season, 2022-2023
Located in Fairfax, Virginia, AFYP has hosted a fun and supportive environment for young performing artists since 1997. Its mission is to provide professional-level acting training to aspiring young artists, empowering them with lifelong skills both onstage and off. AFYP has achieved this through its various school-related programs like fall, spring and summer Showcases, afterschool classes, individual acting coaching and more.
One of AFYP’s latest initiatives is called Time to Shine, and it was started in 2018 with the aim of reaching students living in poverty and attending a Title I elementary school in Fairfax County. “Time to Shine” leverages AFYP’s talented teaching artists to help demonstrate “practical life skills with performing arts skills” for young students, thus leading to more confident individuals who feel it is possible to change their future by working hard and embracing the opportunities presented to them. AFYP is working to reach a $25,000 fundraising goal for “Time to Shine,” coinciding with its 25th anniversary.
The Theatre Lab 30 Years of Acting Classes
In 1992, Deb Gottesman and Buzz Mauro were fresh out of grad school and looking to test their acting skills as teachers and coaches. They couldn’t have predicted how successful their modest theatrical venture would prove to be. Thirty years later, The Theatre Lab now enrolls nearly 3,000 students a year and has trained over 15,000 adults, teens and kids through their programs.
A few years after The Theatre Lab’s inception, Gottesman and Mauro organized fundraisers to support scholarship programs for disadvantaged young people to attend Theatre Lab classes. In 2000, they launched the Life Stories program which has, among other things, “brought life-transforming opportunities for creative self-expression to vulnerable populations within the community, such as incarcerated youth.”
In January 2023, The Theatre Lab will help lead a coalition of the largest arts education organizations in the city in a new initiative, Arts Institute for Creative Advancement, to train and familiarize a new generation of theater technicians and behind-the-scenes artists. The initiative was formed with a $750,000 grant overseen by The D.C. Arts Education Alliance. With this program, The Theatre Lab will connect hundreds of young people with meaningful careers on the D.C. arts scene.
Virginia National Ballet 10th Anniversary Season, 2022-2023
The Virginia National Ballet (VNB) is Prince William County’s premiere ballet school for dancers, toddlers to adults. This year they were recognized by Washington Parent Readers as Washington Parent Picks Winner in Dance Classes.
VNB teaches more than just ballet, with classes in contemporary, jazz, hip hop, acro and more. Twice a year, students can audition to participate in pre-professional performances of “The Nutcracker” and VNB’s Spring Recital. They’ve also hosted world-famous master teachers such as Daniil Simkin, Isabella Boylston and James Whiteside. For young dancers looking to enter the professional world of ballet, they also host a Junior Company.
Arts Barn 20th Anniversary Season, 2022-2023
The Arts Barn, part of City of Gaithersburg’s Arts on the Green, is housed in a renovated 1901 horse stable in the Kentlands. The facility houses a 99-seat theater, rotating art exhibits and artist-in-residence studios where visitors can see the creative process in action. Performances for kids and families have ranged from The Little Mermaid Jr. to annual holiday concerts, from puppetry shows to magicians.
The Arts Barn has provided classes, camps and more to Montgomery County for 20 years. Some of its classes for kids are Teen Improv, Kids on Stage, Paints and Palettes and Broadway Boot Camp.
Kennedy Center’s Theater for Young Audiences on Tour 30th Anniversary Season, 2022-2023
For much of its history, the venerated Kennedy Center has also hosted KCTYA (Theatre for Young Audiences), which produces and tours national and international performances for students and families throughout the D.C. area and the nation.
KCTYA on Tour has been active for 30 strong years, presenting extraordinary programming for audiences ages 3-18. In spring 2023, they’ll present Acoustic Rooster’s Barnyard Boogie: Starring Indigo Blume, a mashup of bestselling author Kwame Alexander’s two beloved children’s books. Attendees can expect lots of music, lots of dancing and lots of fun!
BlackRock Center for the Arts 20th Anniversary Season, 2022-2023
Hard to believe that BlackRock is already celebrating its 20th anniversary! Since 2002, Upper Montgomery County, Md.’s leading venue for the performing and visual arts has been housed in a beautiful, cutting-edge venue where it connects with over 40,000 people each year. Patrons can experience performances, free gallery exhibitions and arts education classes in a welcoming and intimate setting. Interested families can find classes in music, dance, theater and visual arts.
A prime example of the tenacity of our local theaters and education centers during the pandemic, BlackRock transformed into the barrier-shattering UpCounty Hub food bank in March 2020. Starting with just 23 families, UpCounty Hub is going strong two years later, helping serve on average 1,400 families with food and other essential items each week. Its goal is to become an official nonprofit organization and to continue eliminating barriers between people and the things they need the most.
Saturday Morning Live! at The National Over 40 Years of Free Performances
Saturday Morning Live! at The National is celebrating over 40 years of free weekend performances of “wow-inspiring children’s entertainment” to local families. Hosted by the National Theatre, the nation’s oldest venue still presenting touring Broadway shows, Saturday Morning Live! takes place on select Saturdays in the Helen Hayes Gallery. The series is designed for children ages 3-6, though older children will still find the performances engaging
Saturday Morning Live! transitioned into a virtual format in 2020. For two seasons, its weekend performances premiered on YouTube and The National Theatre’s website, and families can still enjoy an archive of over 30 performances online free.
Imagination Stage Over 40 Years of Theater Education
Though not technically celebrating a milestone anniversary, with over 40 years of theater education and opportunities for our area’s youth, we’d be remiss not to mention the impact of Imagination Stage. Originally known as BAPA (Bethesda Academy of Performing Arts), Imagination Stage can trace its origins to 1979 when there was an urgent need for arts education for young people in the D.C. area. Changing its name in 2001 and moving to its current downtown Bethesda, Md. arts center in 2003, Imagination Stage is one of the few children’s theaters in the area that commissions new works for children each year.
Imagination Stage hosts dozens of classes and programs for young people, including its Learning Through Theatre initiative, which since 2014 has served roughly 3,000 MCPS Title I third grade students per year and since 2015 has served approximately 2,000 DCPS third graders per year. In 2014, the Theatre for Change program was created to help “bridge cultural divides and lift up underrepresented voices” through theatrical productions and educational workshops. Its project “10 Seconds” was created using “conversations and discoveries from two years of workshops with police officers and young people ages (12-18).” After a successful premiere at the Martin Luther King Jr. Public Library in D.C., the production is now ready to tour schools and community centers for years to come.