Young performers are learning more than lines and stage direction thanks to Artists Taking Action, a community service club comprised of ninth- to 12th-grade members from La Jolla's youth theatre program J*Company.
Launched in 2008 by the troupe's artistic director Joey Landwehr, Artists Taking Action allows students to plan and host social events, help with special projects like the Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure, and learn how to manage a nonprofit organization.
When Landwehr came onboard four and a half years ago, he said he noticed most, if not all, program activities were performance oriented.
"Most kids just get into clubs and groups and they don't really understand how boards and charitable organizations work," he said. "One of my goals as director for J*Company was to use the arts for community outreach, so we started this group with a few excited children."
Artists Taking Action members decide everything from leadership to project participation.
"We really like for the kids to make the decisions," Landwehr said, adding that part of the club's mission is to teach young people volunteerism, how to sit on a board and how to negotiate within a group. "One of the most exciting benefits for the kids is that it shows them they have a voice."
The 2009-10 officers are Ali Viterbi (president), Shaina Krevat (vice president), Danielle Levin (secretary), Katie Sale (historian), Daniel Penner (treasurer) and Michelle Guefen (understudy to historian).
The students operate under the guidance of Landwehr, J*Company's managing director Nan Pace, and two parent mentors, Kathy Krevat and Dianne Levin.
"It's exciting to see the young artists working hard to learn the needs of the community and to use their art and skills to meet those needs." Kathy Krevat said. "They've scheduled many events throughout the school year including hosting a comedy improv show, a concert, a Tony Awards party, working at J*Company sing-a-longs and much more, with the proceeds going to various local charities."
Last year's projects included raising money to bus underprivileged children to see the company's stage shows, writing letters in support of the arts to local, state and national officials, visiting terminally ill children, and a puppy adoption in conjunction with their production of Disney's "101 Dalmations."
"I've never worked in an organization where I have been so proud of the young people in so many ways," Landwehr said. "They jump into things like this to be able to reach out towards the community and give back from what they receive."
Landwehr is taking advantage of the company's new production of "The King and I" to partner with Miracle Makers, a program of Rady Children's Hospital of San Diego. Both Landwehr and Daniel Myers, cast as The King, will shave their heads to raise money and generate awareness for children with cancer.
Myers' willingness to help others is one example of the impact Landwehr hopes Artists Taking Action will have on his performers.
"I think it's important to teach young people how they can better themselves as adults," Landwehr said. "To learn it as a child will only help to make better adults for the future."
'The King and I'
Who: J*Company's production of the Rodgers & Hammerstein musical
When: Dec. 3-13
Where: David & Dorothea Garfield Theatre, Lawrence Family Jewish Community Center
Tickets: $13-$17, sdcjc.org/jcompany, (858) 362-1348.
Note: Miracle Makers, a program of Rady Children's Hospital of San Diego, has been chosen to partner with members of J*Company to raise money and awareness for children with cancer as part of this production. Donations for Miracle Makers can be made through www.lfjcc.org/miracle.