Journey Theater impacts youth through arts education programs

Arts group operates as an enterprise as well as a nonprofit

Journey Theater
Courtesy of Journey Theater Arts Group

It’s show time for the participants of Journey Theater Arts Group, and kids and teens around Vancouver and beyond are loving every minute of it.

Founded in Vancouver in 2002 under the name Christian Youth Theater (CYT), the organization changed its name to Journey Theater Arts group five years ago when they decided to disaffiliate with CYT and become their own independent nonprofit. Today, the organization offers theater arts education to youth ages 6 to 18 years old who are looking to bolster their confidence and character through acting, singing and dancing.

Since its inception, Journey has held three 10-week class sessions throughout each school year in addition to producing a Broadway-style musical in conjunction with those courses. Classes are offered in downtown Vancouver and east Vancouver, as well as in Portland and Beaverton. The organization has a permanent staff that consists of four full-time and 10 part-time employees. In addition, they hire about 35 teachers and 12 artistic team members every session, along with more than 30 camp staff for the summer programs.

Bethany Larson, founder and interim executive director of the program, said that Journey operates as an enterprise as well as a nonprofit.

“While students pay tuition for classes and patrons pay for tickets (the enterprise aspect), we rely on donations, sponsorships and grants to help fund the program,” Larson said.

She explains that there are show sponsors and businesses that advertise in the Playbills and that strategic partnerships have been very beneficial.

“WAY-FM gives our program ad spots in exchange for placement of their logo on our website, posters and Playbill covers,” Larson said. “We have the same type of partnership with PDX Parent Magazine.”

In addition, there are more than 20 other local businesses that donate items to the silent auction that happens in the lobby of each of their shows. Further, since Journey does not own any spaces for classes, rehearsals or performances, finding appropriate venues can be an ongoing challenge. Larson explains that Journey partners with local schools and churches that rent space to them.

Larson said that part of what makes Journey Theater Arts Group unique is the outstanding level of parent involvement. Each student that is cast in a show must have a parent or other adult to serve on a Parent Committee. The committees are a big part of what makes each show a success and it also allows for families to bond over a common goal. The committees sew costumes together, paint sets, sell refreshments and tickets, or can help with the lights and sound.

“Because of this, we have an amazing family atmosphere where kids and parents work together to bring the show to life,” Larson said.

While Journey Theater Arts Group has steadily grown each year, Larson shares that she and her team are working constantly to improve.

“As culture changes, we seek to find innovative ways to grow confidence and character in our students, and to provide a safe and wholesome atmosphere in which those students can grow,” she said. “I have been so blessed to watch my three children grow up through this program and to witness how the confidence and character they learned is now a big part of who they are as young adults. I expect that Journey will continue to impact the lives of our current students in the same way.”

Shows just recently started, too. See Journey Theater Arts Group students in action at Disney’s Alice in Wonderland Jr. (October 21-29) in Ridgefield and Elf the Musical Jr. in Washougal (December 1-10). More info at journeytheater.org.

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