School program keeps theatre alive amid budget cuts

February 4, 2010 5:56:25 PM PST
While many school budgets for the arts are getting cut these days, there is one organization that has been bringing the arts to public schools for years.

The musical is the Pulitzer Prize winner "Fiorello" about New York's mayor. The cast of 30 are players in the San Francisco Arts Education Project. Students ranging in ages from just 9 to 14 years old perform like showbiz veterans.

The musical theatre program is part of the project that began in 1965 by artist Ruth Asawa to bring performing and visual arts to students when school budgets were cut.

"Their learning is so enhanced by putting them in touch with artists, working artists," artistic director Emily Keeler said.

Since its beginnings, more than 200,000 students in almost 30 schools have benefited.

This really is about creativity and expression in a time in their lives when they are making decisions about their future. This is one way to build confidence.

"You do get this courage because you have to perform in front of an audience, so it makes you a better person inside," said 14-year-old Jeffrey Hyche who is in sixth year with the program.

"I'm like always looking forward to something during the week and it just makes everything a little bit brighter," 12-year-old Lumi Sugazawa said.

For some of them, theatre seems like destiny.

"My uncle, he used to take me to a lot of Broadway shows and I fell in love with it," 10-year-old Micah Manongdo said.

Keeping programs like this going for so long has not been easy. Arts funding has become limited.

"We raise money through private foundations, private individuals; we also work with some of the city monies that go through the schools," Keeler said.

They also rely on ticket sales and working with the School of Arts which does all the technical work, and sharing the space with Theatre Rhinoceros.

"Fiorello" opens Friday and plays through Feb. 20.