Art, children's programs, Creativity, Education, Events, News, Theatre

Young Actors Theatre helps teach kids self-empowerment with crazy, music-so-loud-your-stomach-shakes shows


There is an unorthodox take to kids and theatre in Indianapolis … and they want to share it with Detroit.

From July 13-17 at Detroit Cristo Rey High School, “Camp Neverland” will be hosted by Indianapolis’ own non-profit, Young Actors Theatre (YAT) for kids.


Here’s what the Facebook page says about the program. “We are creating a Neverland like you’ve never seen it. You see, YAT doesn’t do typical, boring children’s theatre. We do experiences. We do theatrical events. We do dances, videos, projection and music-so-loud-your-stomach-shakes, crowd-cheering, audience-loving, crazy shows that are different than anything else. We want you to be a part of it.”

YAT was started in 1976 as a youth acting class with a different goal.  While most acting programs strive to create actors, the main goal here is to encourage and build self- empowerment and help the kids develop the skills necessary to become future business owners, artists, educators, and world leaders.  Performances, story formation, and even the preparation and exercises, all work towards this end.

The goal is to instill these self-empowerment skills into every aspect of a kid’s life, now and into the future, no matter what avenues he or she takes. This has become the passion of Justin Wade, a former student who returned to run the program in Indianapolis as its executive artistic director. He will help run the program in Detroit.

Justin Wade

Justin Wade

“We are a world-class program and we want to bring it to a world-class city,” Wade said.

Detroit was chosen as the first place to expand the program because of Director Sara Carolin. Carolin’s husband, John, is a Detroit native and she has fallen in love with the city’s people and atmosphere.

With all the trips to the city deepening her love and appreciation, she decided to combine it with her passionate work with YAT. After being inspired by hearing Jenenne Whitfield discuss the Heidelberg Project, she brought the idea to Wade in late 2014.

Detroit Cristo Rey High School was chosen due to YAT’s experience with the Indianapolis equivalent.  The high academic standards provided for lower income students struck a chord with the YAT workers in their own backyard, so it seemed only natural that they would seek out a sister organization as a base for this expansion.

The process YAT brings starts from the ground up. The kids choose the story they will perform.  They “build” the scripts by choosing a public domain story …  Jack and the Beanstalk or Snow White, for example. Then they choose a theme, like revenge, greed, or any number of possibilities, and develop the story around it.

Whether it is a love of acting or the goal of self-empowerment that entices, YAT has been a success in Indiana.  There has been a significant rise in revenue in the past 10 years, but the 85% retention rate is what really draws notice.  Young people come back over and over.

The five core values of the group are also enticing:

  • Create a culture of acceptance and inclusion
  • Every student has a voice and is respected for his or her individuality
  • Teach life-long learning and responsibility, which can be applied outside of theatre
  • The outcome of the student outweighs the outcome of the performance
  • Have fun

The third architect of the Detroit program, John Carolin, has seen the power of YAT first hand.  The Motown native worked with Big Brothers and Big Sisters in Indianapolis, and through that he stumbled onto the group.

He noticed how a young girl, who had problems with grades and shyness, came out of her shell and improved her grades after joining YAT. It was the mentorship similarities to Big Brothers and Big Sisters and the goal to help kids be the best they can be that made John Carolin a mainstay.

The three YAT pioneers, Justin Wade, John and Sara Carolin, will be the only ones who run the Detroit program, but hopefully that will be short-term.  While this is the first year for the program, the plan is for it to not be the last. They want to make YAT an annual event in Motown and hope to draw in members of the acting community here and train them to run the program to form a deeper bond with the city.

Registration ends July 5 and costs $250.  While the scholarships available in Indiana are not available in Detroit’s inaugural year, YAT will bring the payment plans of the Indianapolis headquarters with them, to help those who may need financial assistance.

YAT runs from 9:00 a.m. – 4:00 p.m. July 13-17 for youths in grade 3-12 at Detroit Cristo Rey High School, 5679 W. Vernor Hwy.

There are only 30 spots available. So the faster kids apply, the more likely they will get one of the few chances.  To register, please click here. Contact Georgeanna at for information about scholarships. You can also check YAT out on Facebook.

About the Author

One comment on “Young Actors Theatre helps teach kids self-empowerment with crazy, music-so-loud-your-stomach-shakes shows

  1. nice post .Listening to and playing unique tunes help our to de-strain, loosen up and it can also assist to motivate me in trying times.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *