ETF’s signature program continued its momentum to build sustainable middle school theatre programs across the country, despite pandemic challenges.

JumpStart Theatre

In 2020, JumpStart Theatre schools faced the same fundamental challenge as other educational theatre programs — making theatre happen in a pandemic. But JumpStart Theatre schools aren’t like other programs: The 39 participating schools are part of ETF’s flagship program to build sustainable theatre programs in middle schools where there previously were none.

Here’s how it works: Six regional theatre partners administer JumpStart Theatre in 10 states. After a rigorous application process, schools make a three-year commitment. Thanks to partners iTheatrics and Music Theatre International, each school receives $12,000 worth of services, training, mentoring, and support annually to produce a full-scale show for their community. JumpStart Theatre also provides teacher stipends and modest budgets for sets and costumes. Students are involved in every aspect of the production: performance, costumes, sets, technical support, and design.

Some highlights from the year:

  • iTheatrics led two virtual “bootcamp” trainings for 110 JumpStart Theatre teachers during the 2020-21 school year due to pandemic restrictions. Attendees got valuable tips for leading virtual warm-ups, boosting the visual elements of an online performance, and even getting students to actively engage in lessons.
  • When in-person performances weren’t possible, JumpStart Theatre schools got creative with virtual alternatives, including TikTok challenges and Facebook singalongs. Los Coches Creek Middle School, a San Diego JumpStart Theatre school supported by LaJolla Playhouse, created a filmed production of Annie JR. complete with weekly “viewing parties.”
  • Each regional partner devised ways to keep theatre front and center in its JumpStart Theatre schools. See a city-by-city rundown of their innovative activities.
  • JumpStart Theatre launched in Detroit with the University of Michigan’s School of Music and Dance as the local partner — marking the first partnership with a university, which could open the door for future partnerships with similar institutions.

Both students and teachers carry the impact of JumpStart Theatre well beyond the stage. Take a look at what participants have to say: 

“Special needs students don’t often have a chance to shine, and theatre gives them that moment. As they worked together, general education students demonstrated increased empathy, patience, adaptability, and willingness to compromise. All the students involved in theatre have improved in a variety of areas, including overall academics, engagement, and confidence. They have even applied their newfound theatre skills to other classes.”

– Stephanie Brahim, Los Coches Creek Middle School, San Diego

“Our program immensely enhanced our Latino [ESL] students’ willingness to communicate. The students have better attitudes, self-confidence. Theatre has helped us to recognize the struggles our kids face when they don’t speak the language and to see them grow and communicate.”

– Ligia Cuevas-Johnson, Roberts Academy Teacher, Cincinnati

“My friends and I are so excited now that we have a piece of something at school where we can be ourselves.”

– Frostburg, Maryland, student

“I’ve gained new friends, I fit in so much better, and I’m just genuinely happier.”

– Roberts Academy student, Cincinnati

JumpStart Theatre