When I was 13 until I was 17 I lived in Taiwan. It was a wonderful experience, one that I would not trade for anything in the world. However, upon moving to the Seattle area, I found myself smack dab in the middle of high school, where everyone around me had grown up knowing each other since their sandbox days. People weren't cruel or unfriendly, but it is almost impossible to fit in with people who have known each other since preschool. There's no breaking into that group!
That was ok, though, because I had a different outlet: Youth Theatre Northwest. This theatre on Mercer Island (in Washington) is the most welcoming place I have ever had the pleasure to associate myself with. It is warm and friendly, and the staff are eager to get people involved. It was a home away from home for my last two years of high school-- I had rehearsal almost every weekday from 6:00-9:00, and some weekends as well. Shows ran for three weekends. Hence, NO free time. But that was ok, because it was not only my creative outlet, but a place to relax and enjoy.
We worked hard, of course. Theatre doesn't just happen! We were expected to behave in a professional manner, and the rules were the same for everyone, whether you were 8 or 18. Be on time. Be off book by the deadline. Take rehearsal seriously. Be respectful of your director, stage manager, fellow actors, and everyone else. Wear closed toe shoes. Show up every day ready to work. A lot was expected of everyone, and all involved gave a lot back.
Youth Theatre has classes available for the wee ones (3-5 year olds), all the way up to the nearly graduated (15 and up). I have not only been in many plays there, but also teched for a couple as well as assisting with a variety of classes before I went off to college. I think it could be argued that assisting with the summer classes was my first "real" job.
But it's not just about me, of course. Once you get to YTN it doesn't matter if you're the popular one at school, or if you spend every lunch by yourself. No one asks what your grades are, but everyone's willing to listen if you have a problem. This is no exaggeration. In a time when so many kids get home from school and play video games, isn't it important to support an institution that is not only a creative centre but also a community in its own right?
Where I am going with this?
With the recession our economy is in right now, YTN is really struggling to make ends meet. There is a possibility that it will actually have to close. This saddens me more than I can say. No one from YTN would be the same person today without all of the people there. They gave us confidence when it was lacking, something to look forward to every day, friendly people to turn to, and a deep seated respect for the arts.
PLEASE don't let YTN go under. I'm not a begging sort of person, but if you have ANY money to spare, I implore you to help a wonderful organisation that is so much for so many people.