Since its inception in 1997, SLO REP’s Academy of Creative Theatre (ACT) has served children and teenagers 35+ weeks a year with after-school activities, summer camps, workshops, mentorships and other enriching arts curriculum not readily available in local schools. Under the direction of Kerry DiMaggio since 2008, the program has grown steadily over the past 15 years, but the past six months of expansion have been unprecedented. In SLO REP’s new headquarters at 3533 Empleo Street, ACT has already welcomed 265 students to camps and classes within just the first six months, with enrollment projected to exceed 400 students by the end of 2023.
“We are thrilled that enrollment in our ACT programs has rapidly expanded in ways we didn’t think possible as recently as 15 months ago,” said SLO REP Managing Artistic Director Kevin Harris. “In late 2021, we thought we wouldn’t be able to expand ACT enrollment and programming until we completed construction of a new downtown theater in 2027. But thanks to two key grants and our new headquarters building at 3533 Empleo Street in San Luis Obispo, we have had both the funds and the space to greatly expand ACT enrollment. This year we are on track to nearly double ACT enrollment, years ahead of what we thought possible,” Harris said.
“This is a giant leap forward in ACT’s history,” said Kerry DiMaggio, SLO REP Education Director. “Our ACT programs have been at capacity with about 250-300 students annually with long waiting lists since at least 2013. With our new campus and generous scholarship grants, we are breaking a 10-year logjam in enrollment.”
Student enrollment in the ACT program has nearly doubled since moving all camps and classes to our Empleo Street Headquarters in June 2022. The 10,000+ s/f building provides multiple fully-equipped classrooms, rehearsal spaces, and office/storage spaces, allowing a program that was previously bursting at the seams plenty of room for continued expansion. Indeed, the ACT program has doubled the number of programs on offer since 2021 and expects to triple in size by 2027 with the addition of student matinees and other programs.
“Our programs adhere to California’s Visual and Performing Arts Standards (VAPA), as well as national standards for theatre education,” DiMaggio said. “We offer programs in all aspects of theater production, teaching the same techniques and curriculum that aspiring theater professionals are taught. But as proud as we are of our program quality and the increased enrollment, we are even prouder that we have never turned anyone away because of an inability to pay tuition. And that’s been possible solely because of the generosity of our donors.”
Two grants have been especially helpful in supporting financial aid to accommodate the increased enrollment:
- A $5,000 grant awarded last May from the Janssen Youth & Youth Sports Fund held at the Community Foundation of San Luis Obispo County.
- A $2,500 grant awarded last December from the Central Coast Funds for Children.
Together these two grants have enabled SLO REP to award more than 30 scholarships to offset tuition through partial and full scholarships, ranging from $100 to $500, since June 2022. Both the Janssen Fund and Central Coast Funds for Children have supported SLO REP’s ACT educational programs and scholarships since 2015.
“The enrollment numbers are terrific, but much more important is whether we’re making a difference in young people’s lives,” Harris said. “We have heard from dozens of parents that ACT gives their children a focus and purpose that can be life changing, and we’ve heard that from the students as well.”
In January, several ACT students attended a SLO City Council forum to urge the council to retain support for arts and culture as a budget priority. Their attendance alone was gratifying, but even better was the exclamation point provided by Charley Beck, a junior at San Luis Obispo High School and an ACT student. In addition to saying that that her participation in ACT has been “life changing,” she added:
“I have found a beautiful, diverse community that has led me to my passion and given me confidence in my future.”
“At SLO REP, we love producing plays and we love to see full houses,” Harris said. “But nothing is as satisfying as watching our ACT students become confident young adults and helping them forge life-long skills and friendships. This is possible only because of donor support. It truly takes a village to create these transformations.”
The next session of ACT after-school classes begin February 13th and are sold-out but there will be more coming soon, including Spring Break and Summer Theatre Camps. Our classes and camps are taught by talented and dedicated teaching artists at our beautiful Empleo Street campus with plenty of parking for parents and plenty of room to grow for our students!
“Whether your child is an experienced ‘theatre-kid’ or a shy beginner, ACT is the place to train, create, play, and learn.”- Kerry DiMaggio
Participating in theatre encourages creativity and builds self-confidence. ACT provides a creative, artistic, educational and FUN outlet for children who might not otherwise be engaged with their peers or other important adult role models. These two generous grants have and will continue to allow us to welcome every child to any and all of our programs, without regard to their family’s ability to afford tuition.”
For more information about ACT educational programs, please contact Education Director Kerry DiMaggio at [email protected].