Young Stars Theatre
was originally formed in Jacksonville Beach, FL in 2000. The program
founders, Jack and Gloria Bennett, were doing a yearly summer musical
theatre and drama camp with 40-50 youth (18 and under) every summer.
was a voice teacher and private studio owner with a full roster of her
own private voice students and several teachers working for her, and
Jack was a professional actor who, with Gloria, taught acting classes to
youth. It hit them after a few years of doing the summer camps that
there was very little opportunity for these youth to participate in
theatre the rest of the year.
Eventually the idea
came to them to create a community theatre just for youth actors, and
Young Stars Theatre was born. They literally carved out a performance
space in Gloria’s private studio. That first theatre had a stage 13.5
feet wide by 8 feet deep, and could seat up to 42 audience members.
They did regular shows there, a new show about every 2 months, 2 to 3
weekends of performances for each show, and raised a dedicated following
of audience members who were consistently impressed with the high level
of the youth productions.
After a little over
2 years of this, the building where the theatre was located was sold,
and the new owners wanted to raise the lease by nearly 30%, which made
it prohibitive to stay at that location. The studio moved to a smaller
space, and YST was in limbo.
In 2004, Jack and
Gloria moved to Los Angeles. Their daughter, Miranda, who had been
active in the theatre in Florida (including professional Equity theatre)
wanted to get into theatre in California. They were somewhat shocked to
learn that although there was an abundance of children’s theatre, every
theatre charged fees in some way to the participants, some as high as
$800. While they understood the reality that theatre costs money to
produce, they also realized that these fees would likely exclude many
youth from ever participating. So in 2007, Young Stars Theatre made its
Southern California debut with a production of
The Sherlock Society,
an original play by George Demme (Gloria’s father)
Actor’s Workout Studio in North Hollywood.
The idea of free
theatre for youth actors seemed to strike a real chord. Soon, YST was
looking for a theatre to call their own. At the beginning of 2008,
Gloria found a retail space on Sherman Way. Where other people saw a big
empty room with little but a front door, a toilet and a sink, Gloria saw
a theatre. With the help of donated labor from a contractor, Bill
Lippold, donated pews and other building materials found on Craigslist,
and a few thousand dollars in new materials, they were up and running
with their first show in February of 2008.
Young Stars Theatre
produced 11 shows in 2008 in their new space, nearly one a month, most
with at least two and sometimes three completely different casts. Jack
was working a full-time day job, and spending nearly every night at the
theatre, either rehearsing, teaching, or building, and Gloria maintained
a full roster of private voice students while also spending nearly every
night at the theatre.
This schedule proved
exhausting, and both Jack and Gloria ended up in the hospital at
different times at the end of the year. These health issues, along with
the slipping economy, forced Jack and Gloria to scale back to just 10
shows for 2009, and also to make the difficult decision to charge
nominal fees while offering scholarships to anyone who asked.
measure could not hold off the reality of the economic
downturn, and by their final show of 2009, they knew they could no
longer afford to keep the doors open. YST returned
to being a no-pay-to-play theatre for their final show there,
A Christmas Carol,
and shut the doors for the last time on December 15, 2009. The ray of
sunshine came at almost the same time. They received their final letter
of determination from the IRS that YST was a full 501(c)3 non-profit
Now, YST is going
forward, raising funding and continuing production, with an immediate
goal of getting back into their own theatre, and a long-term goal of
building a major multimillion dollar arts complex, with three live
theatres that would also double as film theatres, classrooms for
instruction in all areas of the arts, an editing suite for film
students, and much, much more.
UPDATE: As of January 1st, 2016, YST will
be back in their own home theatre!! The
Fremont Centre Theatre, 1000 Fremont Ave, S.
Pasadena will be our new home. This beautiful
75 seat theatre is the perfect place for YST to grow