My friend Lisa B- and there are a lot of Lisas in my story- asked how I got started with my youth theater troupes. How did I fund them?
So, it's as a good a place as any to begin to answer Lisa's questions, and start to outline the journey I have had with youth theater.
I had joined a 4-H club for home educators. This was a general 4-H club. Each of the project leaders- and I was now one- was to lead a project during the year. I created and directed a skit, based on my skill set.
It was fun, low key, well received.
Another 4-H club was doing an adaptation of Midsummer Night's Dream- could I come and give some advice? So I did.
And I thought: I love Shakespeare! Why haven't I done Shakespeare with my kids?
So I founded a 4-H club, Class Act Drama, to introduce kids ages 5-19 to theater arts. I founded this club in 1992.
The advantages to starting this troupe as a 4-H club were several. Because 4-H is an established youth organization, we started out with some name recognition, and connections to a larger organization and its resources. As a 4-H club, we had access to group insurance for $1 / member, for liability purposes.
Also, the structures and forms of the organization gave us a place to start for internal structures. Later, when I founded the independent group Michigan Youth Theater, I borrowed heavily from the 4-H forms for media release, for medical/insurance info and release, for set up for database info.
For this organization, we charged minimal dues- $5/child*- which covered the insurance costs, and paper, copying and so on. We were able to get free rehearsal spaces, in part thanks to the 4-H label.
When it came to our first production, Taming of the Shrew in spring of 1993, each of the families chipped in for each of their kids' costumes. We found a theater that would let us use their stage- on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday- for $100.
I put up the $100, figuring I might never see it again.
However, I was paid back. This, and every production that has been seen through to performance, ended in the black.
Our funding came from: volunteering and donations from participant families; "well-wisher ads" in the program; admission donations for the performance; donations for the refreshments.
Well-wisher ads are greetings from parents, aunts, uncles, grandparents, or friends- one-liners in the program such as "Gloria, you will always be our star!- love, Gramma and Gramps"- for $5. These ads- and later, actual ads from businesses- have always covered the cost of the program, and then some.
Refreshments were donated by the participant families, so any money collected for them was profit for the troupe.
Class Act Drama went on to produce several plays, present workshops, visit television studios and more.
As Class Act grew, I learned more and more about how to run a successful theater troupe. We also developed a core group of young theater artists and their families who were ready to try for the next level of theater excellence.
So we decided to found a new troupe, independent of 4-H, for older youth who wanted a more intense, professional level experience. We created Michigan Youth Theater.
*For Class Act, and for Michigan Youth Theater, I established from the outset that an inability to pay would never be an impediment for participation. Family discounts and scholarships were set up for each organization.