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Experiencing A Broader World: Project SUCCESS and Theater

posted on Wed, Nov 2 2016 8:34 am by Amy B.

Above: Project SUCCESS students are welcome to bring family members along to enjoy shows with them.

Since Project SUCCESS began 23 years ago, theater has been a key pillar of our work serving students and families. Why theater? Because theater has the power to motivate, inspire and illuminate the world around us. It connects students to those in their own school and community. That’s why we invite every single student in our Project SUCCESS partner schools to join us for these theater events.

“Project SUCCESS theater experiences enriched my life  not only because they exposed me to theater and art, but also because they gave me access to elements and references of our culture that so many take for granted.” — Iman Mefleh, Project SUCCESS alumna

Our Theater Experiences program began as a partnership between Project SUCCESS founder Adrienne Diercks; founding theater partner the Guthrie Theater, with Project SUCCESS Board Member Emeritus Sheila Livingston; founding school partner North High School; and founding philanthropic partner Lifetouch Photography. Since then, we’ve grown our theater partnerships to a wide-reaching community of 40 professional theaters and organizations in and around the Twin Cities. Through generous donations of tickets, our partners help provide Project SUCCESS students and their families access to professional performances at no cost to them.

Left: A mother and daughter attend Theater Latte Da's Ragtime at the Ritz Theater.

To invite students and their families to these special events, Project SUCCESS mails invitations to each student’s household — printed with the help of our in-kind partners Lifetouch Photography and BI Worldwide.

Every student and his or her family in our partner schools has multiple opportunities to see high-quality, professional theater each year through Project SUCCESS field trips and evening/weekend opportunities. Each of the 12,000 students in our partner schools has at least eight opportunities to see a show each school year.

More than 94% of students found going to see plays with Project SUCCESS to be "valuable.” And for many families in our partner schools, attending theater is a brand new experience. We staff each of our theater performances to ensure families are personally welcomed before and after the show – and we provide free childcare and transportation, thanks to an incredible force of volunteer drivers, in an effort to remove any and all barriers to access. 

“It was amazing what it afforded our kids. A lens on the world, on our culture, that they would’ve never had without Project SUCCESS.” — Marnita Schroedl, Project SUCCESS parent

Students involved in the arts statistically have better academic outcomes, higher career goals and are more civically engaged than those who aren’t. The National Endowment for the Arts reports that arts engagement can help narrow the achievement gap, contributing to graduation rates, college completion rates, and setting students up for greater employment and volunteer opportunities. Education Next has found that students who attend live theater become more tolerant by virtue of exposure to a broader, more diverse world. They’re also better able to read the emotions of other people.

Unfortunately, access to arts experiences for low-income students has declined by about 20% over the past decade, meaning students most likely to benefit from arts-rich educational experiences are less likely to get it. For the last 23 years, Project SUCCESS and our theater partners have joined together to address this critical opportunity gap. 

“Project SUCCESS understands that outcomes are simply better. We have better kids, better citizens, better human beings by virtue of intersecting with the arts.” — Joe Haj, Artistic Director of the Guthrie Theater

Right: Ten Thousand Things Theater performs Pericles in the Project SUCCESS office. Photo by John Croman.

Project SUCCESS approaches the selection of our theater events thoughtfully and often meticulously, consciously matching the content of shows to the curriculum students are learning through our in-class workshops. As facilitators discuss themes like decision making and overcoming obstacles with their middle and high school students, they often use theater to help illustrate and foster discussion in class.

“We also look at cast diversity and the cultural relevance of the production,” says Paige Ware, theater partnerships associate. “The most important thing is that students see themselves, and the things going on in their lives, reflected on stage.”

"We also try to connect the shows we choose to Minnesota’s academic standards, so that we can encourage a consistent way of analyzing and discussing the shows," says Khary Jackson, theater curriculum associate. "The students’ insights are consistently deep and reflective and help us to learn how different shows and topics impact them."

We have designed the theater experiences to inspire students, demonstrate they are members of a larger community, act as a springboard for discussion, promote family and peer bonding, help them face real-life issues, take part in new experiences, and build confidence and self-esteem.

This year, our theater performances will span lavish musicals to pared down, one-man shows. We’ll explore everything from age-old Shakespeare to world debuts from local playwrights. Keep an eye on our theater experiences page for upcoming shows.

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