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Education & Community Programs Celebrates Tenth Anniversary

Livian Yeh January 25

This year marks the ten-year anniversary of A.C.T.’s Education & Community Programs department. In the decade since its founding, the department has reached over 125,000 students, teachers, and community members, partnered with more than 40 schools, and collaborated with 112 teaching artists.

It all started with two women and one cold call. In 2011, Eunice Nuval, an educator working at Downtown High School (DHS), was looking for a partner organization for her students. “I was going down a list of theaters in San Francisco, and I thought, why not call the most high profile one?” she recalled. “No one else answered the phone, but Elizabeth did.”

Elizabeth Brodersen was A.C.T.’s newly appointed director of education. Formerly the publications editor at A.C.T., she was aware of the needs of schools and educators in the Bay Area from producing education guides: to support the student matinee (SMAT) program. She met with Nuval at DHS, and an ongoing partnership was born.

“It was really focused and intentional,” said Nuval. A.C.T. teaching artists would host workshops in writing, acting, and theater production skills at DHS, and the high schoolers visited A.C.T. for classes every Wednesday. Nuval said her students were transformed by the experience. “It changed attendance for us. The students gained public speaking and writing skills. Some of them had never been to the theater. [The program] brought them a sense of belonging, that this is also their city.”

Brodersen credits much of the success of the education department to many MFA students through the years, especially Nick Gabriel (class of 2009) and Tyrone Davis (class of 2012), both of whom continued working with the education department after graduation. Close to the high school students in both age and demographics, the MFA actors designed their own workshops in improvisation, writing, and performance for teens. Their dedication to community programs helped to establish the Citizen Artist curriculum, wherein each MFA student has the opportunity to work with partner schools and organizations.

The program’s success has lasting impact on both organizations as well as the community at large. Downtown High School remains a valued partner, and A.C.T. added similar initiatives at Ida B. Wells High School, Hilltop Special Services Center, and Mission High School. Other partner organizations have included 826 Valencia, Tenderloin Boys and Girls Club, the Filipino Education Center at Bessie Carmichael Pre K–8 School, Larkin Street Youth Services, and Community Works West. Community building has been a tenet in A.C.T.’s strategic planning process, and the department officially became Education & Community Programs in 2013.

As Nuval puts it, “We were always taught at A.C.T. that theater is about taking care of each other.”