In San Francisco, theaters increase Youth development

children from the San Carlos Children’s theater


Some theaters in the San Franciso Bay area encourage acting programs for the youth in order to develop a community spirit in the area.

In 1985 JFK Kennedy mentioned that «  The future of our nation depends on our ability to create and to be creative. During the coming decades, our most important national resources will be human resources. If our nation is to continue to meet the challenges of the future, today’s schools have to develop creative leaders ». Some theaters such as the San Carlos Children’s Theater and the American Conservatory Theater have understood this message, and today they are very much involved in youth development. Their may however, have very different educational programs.

Theater as Family

The community built by the San Carlos Children’s Theater is that of experience through parent and children transmission. The theater relies on about 400 volunteers who have developed a sort of community : Year after year, the theater people, parents and children who make this theater thrive have built strong connections by working together and bringing in different skills. Some direct, other create costumes or help with the set on stage. The members of  the San Carlos Children’s Theater consider it to be «  a second  family ». Indeed the teachers treat their students as if they were their own children. Consequently, the San Carlos Children’s theater claims  children, teachers and parents form a community: They are united by common love and passion for theater, they share theater operations as common experiences and are committed to its development as a means of developing the children.

A Sense of Community Inspiration

Involved in educating the young generation who comes from diverse backgrounds so that they change their community, the American Conservatory Theater seems to follow playwright, teacher and theater theorist, Augusto Boal’s ideology strategies.   To make the San Francisco Bay area stronger and to reduce discrimination in the Bay, the largest theater company in the San Francisco Bay Area has developed a « philosophy of lifelong education ». With its 800 people each season -from teachers and artists to technicians and administrative staff- it focuses using drama so that people learn what drama means to the life of a community, which lies on the fulfillment of collaborative skills thanks to the drama strategies and the improvement of a group dynamic. The community built is a natural one, delineated by the legally distinct area of the San Francisco Bay.

Increasing Community Commitment in the Bay. 

The class of ’12 in a clowning workshop.
The class of ’12 in a clowning workshop. Photo by Kevin Berne.

The education programs do not just provide acting classes they build better citizens. Indeed, the theaters offer various art courses which allow the children to develop their taste in art and their creativity. The different classes are essential in order to flourish the imagination of the children, and they become more confident about themselves and professional. By knowing more about the different arts they are able to know what kind of art they prefer, and then, can choose among the activities the city offers. As the study of the National Education Association showed, people who are engaged in different arts like visiting museums, going to the opera or to the theater are more active in community life than others. In other word, they become more curious about the different activities that the region or the city can offer and they develop a sense of identity to their community by meeting people who share the same hobbies. By showing up in different arts organizations people make the city more active and create a group cohesion.

Partnering to Build Future Audiences

The theaters have established several partnerships with schools in the San Francisco Bay area in order to reach a larger young public, and to build future audience members. Indeed, as Art classes are expensive, some schools cannot provide those classes to their children. But with the different partnerships that the theaters have done, the art classes turn less expensive and so every student can have access to Art. More children become familiar with the theater world and all of them have the same possibilities to have access to an art course each week and to develop their taste in art. With the partnerships, the theaters make the San Francisco Bay area a good place where children and young people can grow up and have the same chance to learn about Art , and to attend it.

Reducing Discrimination in the Bay 

For his part, the American Conservatory Theater has developed partnerships with Community Based Organizations ( CBO’s). Those organizations are non profit organizations which work at a local level to improve the quality of life of poor citizens. Consequently, by working with the CBO’s, the American Conservatory theater brings art to the people who could not afford to go to the theater. Moreover, the theater has opened a special program for people who have failed in conventional public schools in order to teach them the different occupations linked with the theater and to give them a second chance. All these partnerships are a way to motivate the people to be part of something and to not feel abandoned by their city. The theater is a means to link all the people together, that everyone can have a future, and to mix all those who live in the Bay in order to create a better community.


At the level of the San Francisco Bay area, theater thus plays an important part in youth development. If theater as an entertainment makes the city more active and attractive, it also gives a chance to students to develop themselves in a supportive environment that acts as a family or a community builder, sometimes even providing social upliftment. Let’s hope that despite the decline in teenager involvement in the arts pointed by the National Education Association, theaters’ educational programs will keep web-connected youths  in the very physical and social life theater provides.

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