Mountain City Center for the Arts Enters National Partnership to Bring Theatre to Middle Schools in Rural Area of Maryland

The JumpStart Theatre program will be implemented in Western Maryland beginning in the 2019-20 school year through a partnership between the Educational Theatre Foundation (ETF) and the Mountain City Center for the Arts (MCCA) in Frostburg, Maryland.

The JumpStart Theatre program creates sustainable theatre arts programs in middle schools where there previously were none.  Participating schools are chosen through a rigorous application process and receive materials, budget, and training support to produce their first full-scale musical production. The support continues for three years until the program becomes self-sustaining.  Non-theatre teachers are equipped with skills and resources to produce their school’s first musical through a proven combination of boot-camp style training and hands-on mentoring. JumpStart Theatre is funded entirely by gifts and grants.

MCCA is in a community of about 10,000 between Hagerstown and Morgantown. While it is within two hours of Baltimore, Washington, D.C., and Pittsburgh, it primarily serves students from nearby smaller communities that have no theatre resources of their own.

Supporting development of the arts in schools in rural areas has its own set of challenges. According to recent research funded by the National Endowment for Arts and published in a paper titled “Leveraging Change: Increasing Access to Arts Education in Rural Areas,” “Identifying a convener for rural networks is an essential first step. Our research underscores the importance of what is known as a “backbone” or “anchor” organization in collective impact: an organization that provides the support to facilitate communication, coordinate efforts, create opportunities to convene, and keep the momentum going.” By bringing JumpStart Theatre to Western Maryland, MCCA is fulfilling the convener role in its region.

“MCCA is honored and thrilled to partner with the Educational Theatre Foundation and the JumpStart Theatre program,” said Coty Forno, MCCA owner and director. “MCCA’s unique geographical location in the tri-state area means that we can reach middle school students not only in Maryland, but in Pennsylvania and West Virginia as well.

“The Mountain City Center for the Arts is an ideal partner to extend JumpStart Theatre, a proven success model  in large metropolitan areas, to students in the more rural communities surrounding MCCA,” added Educational Theatre Foundation President Julie Cohen Theobald. “Coty and Pete Forno have demonstrated so much passion for the program, from their personal donation in the pilot phase and now through their enthusiastic commitment to bring theatre to the middle schools of their region.”

In 2015 in collaboration with Music Theatre International and iTheatrics, the Educational Theatre Association (the parent organization of ETF) introduced the pilot for JumpStart Theatre in Cincinnati. Thanks to a major gift, the national expansion began in November 2017 with the addition of STAGES St. Louis and La Jolla Playhouse in San Diego, California, as the first two partner theatres. In June 2018 the program expanded to Atlanta in partnership with the Alliance Theatre.

Among the findings in research being conducted by the Centers for Research on Creativity  in conjunction with the JumpStart Theatre pilot program are “genuine opportunities for students to cultivate their empathy, starting with their characters but extending to their peers and real relationships in their lives.”  JumpStart Theatre students demonstrated improved sense of ownership, creative problem solving, confidence, collaboration, and sense of community. Teachers demonstrated increased ability to engage in co-creation with students and better confidence in their overall teaching abilities. One teacher shares, “My biggest takeaway from the three years, and the thing that I’m most appreciative of, is the knowledge that I’ve gained about myself. I have become a better teacher by using what I’ve learned through Jumpstart Theatre.”