ETF’s signature program continued its momentum to build sustainable middle school theatre programs across the country, despite pandemic challenges.

JumpStart Theatre

In 2021, JumpStart Theatre schools faced the same fundamental challenge as other educational theatre programs — making theatre happen in an ongoing pandemic. But JumpStart Theatre schools aren’t like other programs: The 39 participating schools are part of ETF’s flagship program to build sustainable theatre programs in middle schools where there previously were none.

Here’s how it works: Six regional theatre partners administer JumpStart Theatre in 10 states. After a rigorous application process, schools make a three-year commitment. Thanks to partners iTheatrics and Music Theatre International, each school receives $12,000 worth of services, training, mentoring, and support annually to produce a full-scale show for their community. JumpStart Theatre also provides teacher stipends and modest budgets for sets and costumes. Students are involved in every aspect of the production: performance, costumes, sets, technical support, and design.

Some highlights from the year:

  • iTheatrics led two virtual “bootcamp” trainings for 110 JumpStart Theatre teachers during the 2020-21 school year due to pandemic restrictions. Attendees got valuable tips for leading virtual warm-ups, boosting the visual elements of an online performance, and even getting students to actively engage in lessons.
  • When in-person performances weren’t possible, JumpStart Theatre schools got creative with virtual alternatives, including TikTok challenges and Facebook singalongs. Los Coches Creek Middle School, a San Diego JumpStart Theatre school supported by LaJolla Playhouse, created a filmed production of Annie JR. complete with weekly “viewing parties.”
  • Each regional partner devised ways to keep theatre front and center in its JumpStart Theatre schools. See a city-by-city rundown of their innovative activities.
  • Support from a generous donor allowed ETF to issue “boost grants” to seven Cincinnati schools so they could resume live, in-person productions in the 2021-22 school year despite financial obstacles resulting from COVID.

Because of the pandemic disruptions, 2020-21 was  treated as a “bonus” year — schools that were in their third year wouldn’t graduate until after the 2021-22 school year.

Kids on a zoom call for JumpStart Theatre
MCCA leading classes online

Both students and teachers carry the impact of JumpStart Theatre well beyond the stage. Take a look at what participants have to say: 

“We certainly are proud that we made the best of ever-changing schedules and learning models and kept moving forward. Just having the push to get our students engaged in the virtual toolkit experience opened doors that we know will start us off on the right path for 2022.”

— Jaime Vandergrift, Flat Rock Middle School Teacher, Atlanta

“This program has actually helped me as a teacher to be more outgoing. When I first started, I was actually quite shy. I learned to not take myself too seriously, and to actually have fun. This is a concept I will take with me into next year as I am preparing the drama students for their production.”

— Mrs. Keith-Dixon, Pointe South Middle School Teacher, Atlanta

“This is probably the most comfortable I’ve been in any class for a pretty long time. It’s even helped me speak up more in other classes, even if it’s just in the chat.”

— San Diego student

“I’ve gained new friends, I fit in so much better, and I’m just genuinely happier.”

– Roberts Academy student, Cincinnati

JumpStart Theatre

Participating Schools

Icon illustration of the exterior of a school building

Regional Partners

Icon illustration of a black hand shaking a white hand

Student Cast Members

Icon illustration of the masks of comedy and tragedy

Student Crew Members

Icon illustration of a theatre light shining downward


Icon illustration of a hand raised in the hair


Icon illustration of an apple
© 2021-2025 Educational Theatre Association

stay in touch with the foundation

Receive Educational Theatre Foundation news and updates in your inbox, once or twice a month! 

*We will not share your email address or send you spam.