In early spring 2015, the Schoolhouse Center for the Arts revived the Black Box Teens, a community service group that offers young people ages 12 and up an opportunity to make new friends and learn important life skills.
The group produces shows to raise funds for the projects they would like to accomplish at the theater. When interest in the group was first renewed, the initial project they considered was to “flip” the Black Box Theater.
Ashley McBreairty, one of the teens who initiated restarting the group, said the plan is to take the current stage out and build risers in that spot, where audience members would sit. The rest of the floor would then become the stage.
Schoolhouse Center for the Arts board chair Cristina McBreairty said as they moved forward, the project ran into some issues around engineering. The project was put on hold while grant proposals are written and an engineer is found. Not wanting the group to lose enthusiasm, Cristina said they began to focus on other projects.
“The plan is to utilize the black box the way it is,” she said. The Black Box Teens will put on a cabaret in the fall, using the current set up of the theater. “We didn’t want them to get discouraged just because that piece isn’t happening, because there are so many other components going on,” Cristina said.
For now, the group is focused on turning what used to be an art room into a “green room,” the backstage area for performers to wait before going on stage. “They’ve made great progress,” said Cristina, including painting the floors and organizing the space.
Molly Olsen, who facilitates the Black Box Teens, said that one of the goals of the group is to get young people involved in all aspects of the Schoolhouse Center for the Arts. “I like to think of us as a learning theater,” she said. “It’s a great place for a young person to come in and start to learn about theater and just get their feet wet.”
Cristina added that when they began working with the group, they asked each participant what their particular interests were. Some are on stage, but others are learning to help with production in other ways, like running the lights or handling costumes and props. “We used to have a lot of teens that got involved in this way, and they grew up and moved on, and now we need to replenish. This is an opportunity for them to have some ownership,” she said.
Olsen said the cabaret the group is putting on is not only a great place to showcase the young people’s talents, but also a great opportunity for them to learn about those other aspects, from set design and lighting to publicity. “It’s all these different levels of theater that people this age don’t get to experience,” she said. “The biggest aspect of this group is about ownership and positive decision making.”
The group has approximately a dozen active members, and anticipates more participation after summer ends. They have taken on projects like the green room, cleaning and organizing the attic, and organizing the paint room. All of these are projects that have been discussed in the theater before, but this group of teens is getting it done. As a result, said Olsen, the teens are becoming the experts on the Schoolhouse. Often, the teens are underestimated, said Olsen.
Corinne Ulmer agreed. “I think at our age we definitely get overlooked a lot, for lights, or props, or even costumes – they don’t really think about our opinions that much.” This group is giving them the chance to prove that they are capable.
Ashley said that she is proud of the things they group has accomplished. “Utilizing the black box, the art room, the paint room, the attic…It’s all getting done by teens, and that’s what makes me really happy,” she said.
Ulmer added, “It’s fun to take over stuff that adults usually do.”
Some of the Black Box Teens, like Ashley, have been involved at Schoolhouse Center for the Arts for years. Others have been around a month or two. But the group is open and welcoming to all interested young people. “That’s the cool thing about this group,” said Cristina. “It doesn’t matter if you don’t have tons of background.”
Olsen said she is trying to facilitate allowing the teens to explore all facets of putting up a show, allowing them to go and do whatever they want in the theater community. “There are so many jobs that people don’t realize exist, and that’s their passion,” she said. “I hope we can continue to help people discover those.”
Young people interested in becoming involved in the Black Box Teens can email the theater at firstname.lastname@example.org.