Founded in 1957, Riverside Children’s Theater is a program that strives to bring appreciation of the arts and the foundational skills it takes to perform to youth in the community.
In past years, an average of 200 kids in kindergarten through eighth grade participate in the theater arts program. Students in ninth through 12th grades can participate in Tech Class where they learn production, makeup and stage crew skills.
“The most important thing we achieve is to provide our kids with tools that will help them in life,” the organization’s President Michelle Cummins said. Theater exposes youth “to experiences and ways to grow that I feel they cannot get in any other activity.”
While productions and mandatory Saturday classes were shut down, the organization transitioned to offering Master Classes online. Industry professionals from the community worked with in-house staff to offer specialized classes in stage combat, hip-hop, pirate boot camp, princess boot camp and others. These virtual classes were open to the community as well as to members of the program. RCT plans to continue with these classes even after COVID-19 restrictions are lifted.
RCT also produced “Annie Jr.” in April. The young cast had seven weeks of rehearsal through Zoom, practicing choreography, blocking and acting. Then practiced together for two weeks, recording the show and offered it as streamed content. The program reached over 500 homes.
Following that, the organization did its first in-person production, “Peter Pan, Jr.” at an event center, with social distancing and mask restrictions. The show closed last month.
“Part of our mission is to reach as many kids as possible,” Cummins said “We are not a merit-based program. We want to reach them, serve them, and help them grow and gain an appreciation for what theater can offer them no matter their skill level.”
Recently, Riverside Children’s Theater received a Riverside County Nonprofit Assistance Fund grant through the Inland Empire Community Foundation. RCT is a volunteer run organization and depends on events, ticket sales and donations. Paying for the rights for productions, facility rentals for performances, and storage costs add up. The organization lost revenue during the COVID-19 pandemic and grants helped immensely, Cummins said.
“It is hard to fund a program like this,” she said. “We work hard to keep our tuition down so we can reach as many family members as possible. We want all kids to experience what we have to offer.”
One of the biggest challenges RCT currently faces is finding a home for its productions and education programs. Normally the organization works with schools to utilize their theaters and spaces. However, COVID-19 restrictions as schools reopen have made this difficult. Ultimately, RCT hopes to have a permanent space of its own.
Community members interested in participating in future Master Classes can visit the organization’s website. Those wishing to be a part of future RCT productions and education programs must be added to a waiting list. Class sizes are limited, and an equal ratio of boys and girls is maintained at each grade level. Children can only be signed up by a parent, grandparent, or legal guardian, and can be placed on the waiting list as early as birth.
The RCT is unsure when its regular Saturday classes and productions will resume.
“We have had a taste of returning and we want to keep forging ahead and offering the education component of our program,” Cummins said. “Theater is very special and does something that nothing else can do for the individual.”
Inland Empire Community Foundation works to strengthen Inland Southern California through philanthropy.