Are you a teen with a passion for theater? Or are you a teacher with an interest in bringing theater to your classroom? If so, Seattle is just the place to be. The Seattle Repertory Theatre is one of many that offer many education outreach programs for youths and their teachers to explore the world of theater.
“We try to introduce students at all age ranges to a variety of ways they can become involved in theater,” said Sarah Meals, public relations manager at Seattle Rep. “They tackle it in different ways, depending on what they’re interested in.”
Most of Seattle Rep’s youth-outreach programs last the entire school year. Meals said a countless number of students participate.
“We have programs that come and go throughout the years — that we’ll do for just one year and then will go away. And we have programs that have been there for several years,” she said. “We’re continually in a learning process to see which programs are really working and, if they are, trying to replicate that formula year-to-year.”
However, the benefits students reap from the programs are big, no matter which program.
“There are a couple different goals,” she said. “One is to supplement what students are getting or not getting in the public schools with funding being cut back in the schools. The larger issue, though, is we want to contact these kids when they’re young so they think of the arts growing up. It’s important to develop an appreciation early.”
But it’s also important for students find their own voice, Meals said: “Most of our projects are aimed at students telling their own stories. We really try to avoid pushing out information; we want them to become part of the arts. The point of all programs is engagement — not, ‘Here is the art, go home and think about it.’”
Frances Kao, another public relations manager at Seattle Rep, said students are exposed to elements in theater that they would not have known otherwise, especially in the Y-WE Speak program.
“There is a lot of access to what’s going on behind the scenes,” she said. “We’ve often heard, ‘I didn’t realize there were so many jobs in theater!’ Until they see things up close and speak to professional designers and craftsmen, it doesn’t quite register there’s an army you don’t see just on stage.”
The Y-WE Speak program (Young Women Empowered) offers young women age 14 to 18 from diverse backgrounds mentorship and access to creative programs aimed to empower them to acquire confidence, resilience and leadership skills. It uses theater to tackle issues such as race, gender identity and social pressure.
During the season’s residency, participants play a part in eight generative workshops with Seattle Rep teaching artists to gather and co-create an original theater piece based on their life experiences. Y-WE participants will attend six Seattle Rep productions.
“The program also includes a lot of access to performance discussions with community talk-back sessions,” Kao said. “Students are astounded there are so many stages of writing. It’s exciting to learn that writing/playwriting is a collaborative effort with a community of artists. The audience is often unaware of all the back-and-forth that happens.”