Musical theater could be considered a triple threat, meeting Illinois learning standards for reading, social-emotional learning and athletics. But in the hands of the professional artists who share their passions with the kids flocking to Music Theater Works’ summer programs, musical theater feels like home where they can be themselves amid all that learning.
“Kids learn to be so much more empathic, they learn to be creative, they learn interpersonal skills, they get to have fun with their peers, which has not been the case the past couple of years,” says Kyle Dougan, Music Theater Works’ Producing Artistic Director, about the theater company’s YouthREACH Kids Company, for kids 8-13, and Youth Company, for kids 13-18.
Most of all, the programs bring the fun.
Led by professionals who are already making a name for themselves on stage, the programs are perfect for all kids, with a spot for those who might just want to dabble in musical theater or who want to see what it’s all about to the serious musical theater kids who have their sights set on their name in lights. “They are teaching kids not only skills that are great for those kids that might love musical theater but also they’re accepting and creating an environment that gives kids agency to explore themselves,” Dougan says about the teachers.
No one is turned away in this audition-free environment. And everyone gets the chance to be the star of the show if that’s what they want, says Music Theater Works Development Manager Alexandra Nelson. The Kids Company program uses “tag team casting” where a single performance might have multiple stars sharing the leading role, she says. There are also great spots for kids who want to be in the ensemble or to be featured dancers.
Each week, they put on a performance for families and the community, to raucous applause every time.
“It really does become like they’re living the dream as a performer on Broadway,” Dougan says.
Nelson and Dougan took a few moments out of their busy planning for the summer shows to share what’s in store for kids and how Music Theater Works can provide a summer they — and their families — will remember.
A summer of musical theater
There’s good reason why kids come back year after year for the program, Nelson says. She cites a RAND Corporation study that determined the requirements of a successful summer program, and she’s proud to say Kids Company and Youth Company hits every one: cool T-shirts, snacks, practicing artists in the profession, a beautiful space, a culture of high expectations that affirms kids as participants and artists, the ability to create positive relationships with mentor and peers and an atmosphere that fosters a sense of belonging and acceptance.
Dougan says the entire team makes sure the kids are “being seen for their authentic selves” in a place that feels like home.
“It gives every kid the chance to be a star,” Nelson says.
Music Theater Works is uniquely suited to follow all state, local and national guidelines surrounding keeping kids and staff safe from COVID since it offers an indoor/outdoor space, outside rehearsal spaces and a nearby park to make sure everyone gets plenty of fresh air. It’s almost like their own little bubble, Dougan says.
Kids can sign up for one week or all five and many return year after year. This summer, the Kids Company will be performing Sound of Music, High School Musical, Into the Woods, Shrek Jr. and Mary Poppins Jr. The Youth Company will have a professional experience through performing Little Mermaid at Northshore Center for the Performing Arts.
“It’s a great year to come back to theater,” Dougan says. “Our live theater is getting back on its feet and I think it’s time for kids to get back, too.”
Music Theater Works also offers paid production internships through YouthREACH Tech, and a truly unique and free program through YouthREACH Teach that teaches theater patrons about the shows. Scholarships are available.
Find out more about Kids Company and Youth Company at musictheaterworks.com/youthreach.