by RENEE PATRICK Cascade A&E Editor
Entering the 16th year of offering theatre education for school children all around Central Oregon, the Bend Theatre for Young People (BTYP) is poised to begin a new chapter in the operation and programming of the organization. The result of his miraculous recovery from a tragic cycling accident last year, Artistic Director Gary Browne is driven to devote his revived verve towards enhancing BTYP’s ability to provide theatre experiences and the resulting confidence and self-esteem boost for even more local children.
Founded in 1997 as the only community theatre offering for kids at the time, BTYP offers year-round after school programs that combine theatre education with fun and interactive performing arts as well as an extensive summer conservatory session. Activities include speech, movement, pantomime, improvisation, theatre games and performances. Many local resources aid in the programs’ mission including Cascades Theatrical Company (CTC), BTYP’s parent program.
With the overall mission of building confidence, promoting self-discipline and reinforcing responsibility and good communication skills, Browne has found theatre to be an important foundation in many local lives. “A measurement of our success is the significant amount of students who return,” said Browne. “Once they participate in one program, particularly summer program, over 80 percent of the students return.”
Driven to make the programming accessible to more kids, Browne is putting forth the energy to obtain more grants, sponsorships and resources for BTYP. “I have an opportunity to refocus my energies on the theatre,” he said. “Initially our mission was to provide an educational theatre experience for children who didn’t have those opportunities, and teach the fundamentals of the art and craft.
“That mission has not changed, although in the economic environment it becomes more challenging. We have made great efforts to make tuition affordable for parents. Up until two years ago we had a scholarship fund for students who could not afford to attend. When the economy collapsed, the aid was all used up because of the rising need…The goal is to replenish the funding for financial assistance to those students who can not afford the programs through grants and sponsorships and continue helping those kids out.”
BTYB would like to establish a new board of governors to help take the organization into the next phase of its mission, and secure a new location for their operations. The theatre school has operated out of a retail space in the Bend River Mall for a few years, then did an artist residency program in some of the local grade schools. Bend First Presbyterian Church has been a major supporter of the mission and has donated space to the group over the years.
“The most important testament to the continuation of the theatre has to do with parents and community support. The programs would not exist without CTC, First Presbyterian Church and the private and public schools in Bend that have supported my efforts.
“As an educator I have tried to be inclusive in accommodating children with special needs while no one else was making that effort and creating those opportunities. So for me it has never been about making money as it is serving the students. It is a joy and a wonderful part of what I do to serve the community and want to continue that effort.”
For Browne, one of the biggest rewards from his work with the youth has been watching them succeed in both the theatre and in school. “My joy at this point is continual relationships with the alumni of BTYP; many of the students have gone on to college and university programs and returned and worked as instructors and directors,” Browne said.
For the future of the theatre education program and the devoted individuals that run and support the organization, further collaboration with the community is important. The testament to the success of BTYP can be seen in the kids who participate. “This is my 16th year with the theatre and it is such a joy, the kids want to be there and they are enthusiastic and it is fun…it has been a wonderful experience,” Browne concluded.