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Why We’re Here

April 30, 2010

Despite a remarkably vibrant arts community in New Britain—which includes two successful community theaters, a distinguished art museum, a children’s museum, a chamber orchestra, choral groups, a historic arts facility, and several other performing and visual arts organizations and artists—no organization in the City of New Britain is dedicated specifically to providing theater programs to children and young adults. New Britain Youth Theater (NBYT) will provide that service to fill this artistic void for New Britain’s youth. Initially, NBYT will work through Vision New Britain, Inc. as fiscal sponsor while it establishes its own nonprofit identity. NBYT has recently incorporated, is in the process of filing for nonprofit 501(c)(3) status in its in own right, and will use facilities at Trinity-on-Main as a home for both performances and educational programs. The mission of NBYT is “to enrich the lives of children and young adults by encouraging creative thinking, fostering self-confidence and self-esteem, and developing general life skills through involvement in low-cost programs in the performing and cinematic arts.”

Why is it important that an organization exist in New Britain to provide theater programs to children?  A study published by Americans for the Arts reports findings that, compared to the national sample, youth in nonschool arts-based programs are:

  • Attending schools where the potential for violence is more than twice as high
  • More than twice as likely to have parents who divorced or lost their jobs in the last two years
  • Over five times as likely to live in a family involved with the welfare system in the last two years

And yet, young people working in the arts during their out of school hours are:

  • Four times more likely to have won school-wide attention for their academic achievement
  • Being elected to class office within their schools more than three times as often
  • Four times more likely to participate in a math and science fair
  • Three times more likely to win an award for school attendance
  • Over four times more likely to win an award for writing an essay or a poem.[1]

By participating in activities and programs outside of formal education, children learn to become leaders and responsible members of their communities, of the organizations they take part in, and of their own families. They learn discipline, respect for themselves and others, self-confidence, and self-esteem. Participation in theater especially teaches children and young adults to be both individually creative decision-makers and team players dependant on collaboration to reach their goals. A more immediate result is that students who take part in arts education programs are less likely to drop out of school than students who do not participate in the arts.[2] By engaging their creativity and giving them means to express themselves, the arts reach the students who might otherwise become drop-out statistics.

The directors of NBYT recognize the transformational nature of the arts on youth. David Sousa (Executive Artistic Director) was honored with state and regional recognition from the American Association of Community Theatres (AACT) in 2002, and has two decades of directing experience (including several productions at Hole in the Wall Theater in New Britain) and a pending BFA in Theater from Central Connecticut State University (May 2010); Darren Farrington (Executive Producing Director) has an MFA from Columbia University School of the Arts, and has worked and trained on Broadway, Off Broadway, and in regional, community, and children’s theaters; Gwen O’Donnell (Director of Film and Television Education) holds a degree in Film and Television from the University of Southern California School of Cinematic Arts, and has written and directed television programs, feature length films, and documentaries. All three directors participated in theater as young adults, and credit it for both their artistic and general success in their adult lives.  They are now parents—with children ranging in age from one to sixteen.

Not every child who participates in theater will grow up to be an actor, designer, director, or producer—not any more than they’ll grow up to be a princess, ballerina, cowboy, or astronaut. But theater arts will have been important to them nonetheless. The arts—and the ability to think, create, and collaborate—are what make us human and humane. The children who participate in theater programs will discover that. At the very least, they’ll discover that all the world’s their stage. They’ll discover that they can be anyone and do anything. Is there any better reason that that?


[1] Heath, Shirley Brice, with Elizabeth Soep and Adelma Roach. “Living the arts through language and learning.” Americans for the Arts Monographs 2.7 (1998): 1-18.

[2] Israel, Douglas. Staying in School: Arts Education and New York City Graduation Rates. The Center for Arts Education (2009).

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