Theater Tech Program helps prepare teens to enter workforce

Julio Q., Zachery F., Taisa M., and Instructor Adriel W. in the sound training session. Photo courtesy Joe's Movement Emporium.

BY SCARLETT SALEM — The programs offered through Joe’s Movement Emporium in Mount Rainier usually promote education, production, and artist services with an emphasis on dance and movement. The Theater Tech Program (TTP), which began in 2008, has a slightly different goal.

“TTP is a workforce development initiative that provides instruction in theater tech, operation, and digital media to at-risk, low-income youth, ages 16 to 21,” said Shonique McBayne, the program’s current director. It creates  opportunities for disadvantaged Prince George’s County youth to gain critical skills in theater technology in order to prepare for employment in that industry.

“We started the program because a significant number of young adults inquired about employment at Joe’s,” said Cathy Smith, the program’s recruitment and outreach coordinator. “We wanted to create more jobs and training opportunities in the arts and in other sectors.”

“There was a lot of interest in understanding how theater worked and a lot of interest in acting,” said McBayne.

Northwestern HS student Roderick R. researching colleges in the post-secondary session. Photo courtesy Joe's Movement Emporium.

Northwestern HS student Roderick R. researching colleges in the post-secondary session. Photo courtesy Joe’s Movement Emporium.

The program commitment is two years, and enrollment periods are offered twice a year. In the first year, participants receive training at Joe’s twice per week for three hours.

“I want to go to an arts school…so the films that I make here, I can add to my portfolio. Which is a benefit because not a lot of students have that,” said TTP participant and Northwestern High School Senior Rosaura Martinez, “We have the opportunity to use the technology we don’t have at home.”

After the first season of training, which generally ends in the spring, participants have the option to either participate in a work-study program, work for Joe’s, or focus on school. If students choose the work-study program, the TTP helps connect them with potential employers, usually area artists. “The artists volunteer their time and gain an employer without [us] having to pay them,” said McBayne, because TTP finances the work-study.

The second year of the program shifts to a mentorship for  the participants. The TTP generally calls its participants on a quarterly basis and sends a monthly email with local jobs postings and scholarship opportunities. “If they need anything, we are always here for them. We don’t want to bother them, but just want to check in and help them out as needed,” McBayne said.

By the end of the program, participants have accumulated 180 hours of work experience.

“I love seeing the students bond with one another, get caught up in learning a skill, like photography or digital editing, and learn storytelling and actually tell a story from their life to their peers.  These young people don’t have many opportunities to have their voices heard,” said Smith.

Jaylen B. fixing lights in the light training session. Photo courtesy Joe's Movement Emporium.

Jaylen B. fixing lights in the light training session. Photo courtesy Joe’s Movement Emporium.

This year, the program consists of 20 seniors from Prince George’s County high schools and 20 participants who are either recent graduates or have dropped out of high school.

The TTP is currently funded through grants, some of which are awarded by Prince George’s County. This allows students selected for the program to participate for free. McBayne said that enrollment has increased over time the years because more money has been allotted for the program.

In addition to building an arts portfolio, students learn how to create resumes and practice other job-related skills. “They teach us how to present yourself in an interview,” said Gloria S. Argueta, also a current participant and Northwestern High School Senior. “It honestly feels like a family.”

“Every year is different,” said McBayne. “Last year’s students were very quiet and this year they are the opposite …. Students call and update [us] regularly about what is going on and I love when students keep in contact, even past their follow up year,” she said.

According to McBayne, “about 70 percent of the TTP’s 2014 graduates continued on to college. Several are majoring in graphics or audio-visual media; one student is enrolled in the military, and the remainder are working on what they want to do.”

Those that do not find work after the program are able to work in the theater at Joe’s until they find another opportunity. “The hours [working at Joe’s] aren’t as much [as full-time work], but we get to keep in touch with them and we meet with them to write out plans and goals and figure out next steps,” said McBayne.

The TTP is actively accepting applications for 20 recent graduates to comprise the winter 2015 cohort beginning in January. More information is available at www.joesmovement.org.