La Jolla Playhouse sponsors middle-schoolers

Middle-schoolers in San Diego Unified School District (SDUSD) will have a rare opportunity to express themselves through the JumpStart Theatre Program, sponsored by La Jolla Playhouse.

The Playhouse was selected by the Educational Theatre Association (EdTA) to be one of two regional theaters to expand the successful program it was running in Ohio.

“EdTA believed we had the right skill set to launch their program on the West Coast,” said Steve McCormick, Playhouse’s director of education and outreach. “The Stages Theatre Company in St. Louis was the other company chosen for the JumpStart Theatre expansion.”

Only three middle schools will be selected for the program, which lasts three years and is a fully funded musical theater experience. The application window has closed, so Playhouse officials are in the interview stage of selecting the schools.

“Like the Playhouse, participants will be traveling down new roads and exploring the power of storytelling through theater,” McCormick stressed. “And, as students celebrate the great joy and hard work that it takes to put on a production, they will have the opportunity to be seen and heard by their family and friends in a new light. It can be an amazing thing to witness and to experience.”

Each of the schools will receive a Playhouse Teaching Artist as a mentor while they navigate their way through the program. There are a series of boot camps that teachers from the schools will attend. In the first year, the boot camps are taught by staff from iTheatrics, a New York-based organization that developed the JumpStart curriculum. Playhouse Teaching Artists will learn the material and become the boot camp leaders in subsequent years.

Each school will work toward a final performance of a junior version of a Broadway musical. Schools get to choose from an extensive catalogue of titles ranging from “Annie Jr.” to “Xanadu Jr.” The list also includes many Disney titles such as “The Lion King Jr.,” “The Little Mermaid Jr.” and “Beauty and the Beast Jr.”

At the end of the year, there will be a celebration where the schools come together and perform a song or two from their production for each other.

SDUSD Superintendent Cindy Marten said: “We are thrilled to have JumpStart Theatre come to San Diego Unified. What a terrific opportunity for our middle-school students to not only have an arts experience, but to develop their 21st century skills. We know JumpStart Theatre will continue our vision to transform lives through the arts. Thank you to our great community partner, La Jolla Playhouse, and to the Educational Theatre Association.”

The program comes at a time when SDUSD has been ramping up a stronger arts education program with additional funding. It’s a promising trend, given that, historically, district officials have often cut funding for arts programs.

Playhouse managing director Michael Rosenberg opined: “It’s so important to include the arts in any school’s curriculum. The arts teach life skills including leadership, teamwork, problem-solving and critical thinking. These skills will help students find success in whatever field they choose to pursue in the future.”

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