It started as a group of parents doing fundraising for their high school theater students at Central High School in 2006. Thirteen years later, the Advocates for Creative Theater Students (ACTS) program is thriving at the high school and in the community. The main goal of the program now is to connect adults who love theater with students interested in theater arts.
“When it comes to our mentors, they are volunteers in the community who work as bankers, lawyers, teachers – all kinds of professions – but they are also involved in theater,” said Holly Perli of Rapid City, the current president of Central High School’s ACTS group. “We have had a variety of volunteers, including many Central High School alumni, theater professionals, and local talent from the Black Hills Playhouse, Firehouse Brewing Theatre, and Black Hills Community Theatre.”
Another goal of the ACTS program is to produce a big show every three years, which serves as the main fundraiser for student trips. In recent years, ACTS has helped organize performances of The Laramie Project, Pippin, Hairspray, Rent, and Newsies. The shows serve as fundraisers for overseas trips, which theater students are invited to go on every three years. Since 2008, the students have been to Greece, England, Italy, and the British Isles. They will be taking a trip to Spain, France, and Italy in 2020.
“There are always elements of theater on these trips,” said Holly. “Sometimes the students perform, sometimes they collaborate with international professionals, and sometimes they have backstage tours. These are exciting learning experiences for the students.”
In the off years, ACTS sponsors two $500 scholarships to Central High School students who are involved in theater. Students must write essays to be considered for the scholarships. Students do not need to be going into the theater profession to be eligible for the scholarships, but they must have participated in theater during high school.
Holly got involved in ACTS because her daughter, Olivia, a junior at Central, participates in theater. Although Holly works as a nurse, she is no stranger to the theater world. In addition to helping with ACTS productions, she has been involved in shows with Black Hills Community Theatre, Firehouse, and Hapaloa Productions. What she loves most about ACTS is that it provides ongoing support for theater students.
“There is an ongoing relationship between these mentors and the students. They don’t just come together for eight weeks and never chat again,” said Holly. “Students come to know and recognize adult leaders in the community, and the mentors stay in their lives, helping them to grow into open-minded, healthy young adults.”
Holly believes it is important for people to be involved with theater because it develops the human condition. It also provides a sense of community that is sometimes lost in society. “Theater builds tolerance, acceptance and respect for each other. It’s an inclusive activity,” she said. “Not everyone is an actor. It takes people working on sets, costumes, stage management, and more. It truly takes a village.”
photos courtesy of ACTS participants