Many people who hear the words “youth theater” may be quick to judge its productions as merely a grade above school plays where kids dress up and sing songs. Don’t let the sparse description of the Roseville Theatre Arts Academy fool you.
“I think a lot of people have a preconceived idea that because a theater uses the word youth, teen, or workshop that it’s going to be of lower quality, less professional, not as finished or polished. And I think the exact opposite can be true,” said Michelle Raskey, RTAA co-founder and wearer of many RTAA hats including director, writer, and program educator. “We treat our kids when they’re on stage like adults. We have expectations that are high…and if you give them the tools and the time, they really rise to that level and that quality.”
Occupying Downtown Roseville’s historic Roseville Theater, the RTAA has a variety of 7 week programs which culminate in a show that many people, Raskey says, come to and are surprised by its stage production and the professional performance of its young actors.
Some shows, such as last year’s “Annie”, require auditions and target kids 10-20 years old while others are teaching workshops open to all kids 4-15 years old who register. They also run multiple two-week summer camps, a Treehouse Players series, a fairytale series for school field trips and matinees, and 2 adult shows a year, such as last year’s “Fiddler on the Roof” and this year’s “Spamalot”.
While the adult shows tend to do very well, Raskey emphasized that their core mission will always be to educate youth and give kids and young adults of all ability levels a place to feel like home.
“This is their place to flourish and shine and grow,” said Raskey. “We don’t have connections with Hollywood, we don’t have agents who come see our show, we don’t promise that your kid is going to be famous, but this is a place where kids can come and feel good about themselves, grow in self-confidence and self-esteem, and have a great time doing it.”
Through the direction of Raskey and co-founder Jennifer Vaughn, the RTAA’s productions have won multiple awards, including 7 Elly Awards last year. Much of that success is due to their focus on individual attention and professional growth. Building off of Raskey’s personal inspiration to pursue theater arts because of a drama teacher “who told me something about myself I didn’t know,” the work they do is driven by encouraging and teaching kids, and providing a place that helps them find who they are.
Community support is also a factor that keeps the theater going and even got it started. When Magic Circle, who occupied the same building and for whose children’s program Raskey and Vaughn previously worked, suddenly closed in 2010, parents pushed Rasky and Vaughn to keep it going.
“We never had a desire to run a theater,” said Raskey. “We were just educators and developers and programers and actors and teachers…So we were terrified.”
But with the help the parents, volunteers, and a Board of Directors, all of whom Raskey applauds as amazing, the organization restructured and continues to sustain itself. They are a registered nonprofit and receive funding only from their programming. The RTAA is clearly, Raskey says, something the community wants and needs because both their classes and programs are always full.
And why should we as community members support RTAA and live theaters in general?
“In this world of YouTube, constant media, and our phones always in front of our faces, we forget what it’s like to interact with a live performer,” said Raskey. “It’s something we have to keep going, because if we get so complacent that we find all of our entertainment on a screen, we lose the magic that happens between performer and audience member. And that can be amazing.”
Photo courtesy of Roseville Theatre Arts Academy