Kids on Stage

It’s always a thrill to see your child on stage – whether they’re playing the lead in The Music Man or a tree in their kindergarten play. For many kids, however, the experience can be life changing. 

When Jodi Murphy saw that her son Jonathan had an interest in acting, she searched for programs where he could develop his talents. She found Peninsula Youth Theatre in Mountain View. "I don’t think Jonathan would be who he is today without his time at PYT," she says.

Murphy believes gaining self-esteem is about taking risks, pushing oneself out of a comfort zone and having success that builds character. "Confidence and self-assurance comes through accomplishment," she says.

Through his participation in performances at PYT, Jonathan (who was born with Asperger’s Syndrome) is no longer afraid to interact with people, and is more confident and self-assured. He has gone on to work in community theater throughout the Bay Area, conducts workshops and shows at local elementary schools and, now age 23, is getting ready to start his season with the Los Gatos Shakespeare Festival.

"I have witnessed children’s (and parents’) transformations time and time again," Murphy says. "Some will continue on to perform, but most will go on to do other things, carrying on the confidence, the ability to think on their feet, the understanding of what it’s like to work as a team and the pride of getting good results through hard work."

The following is a sampling of local theater programs throughout San Francisco and the Peninsula that foster this spirit of discovery for children of all ages:

Brisbane Dance Workshop (BDW), Brisbane – Developed with the desire to preserve a child’s playfulness and creativity, the Brisbane Dance Workshop has had more than 20 original performances involving children and adults, and provides creative and skill-based performing arts learning to children from age 3 to 17. Classes offered include modern dance, creative movement, acting, clowning, voice and improvisation. Costs range from $85 to $230 per session. For information, visit

City of Los Altos Youth Theatre, Los Altos – An educational program dedicated to developing skills and interest in the dramatic arts, this year-round program now produces three plays and one musical each year. Participation is based on audition. For information, visit

Coastal Theatre Conservatory (part of Coastal Repertory Theatre), Half Moon Bay – The Coastal Theatre Conservatory (CTC) offers dramatic training for young people ages 4 to 20. Classes as well as coaching are offered during after-school hours from September through May. Past productions included The Music Man, Jr. and Fiddler on the Roof, Jr. Participants in teen conservatory must interview and register online. For information, visit

Marsh Youth Theatre (part of The Marsh), San Francisco – Open to all young performers ages 4 to 15, with no auditions required, Marsh Youth Theatre (MYT) offers classes and workshops that each culminate in a performance. Classes for beginning artists ages 7 to 11 include MYT First Stage Ensemble – an 11-week session. Older kids can participate in the Mainstage Performance Ensemble, sign up for a summer intensive program or audition for MYT’s Teen Troupe. Costs range from $50 to $685. For information, visit

The New Conservatory Theatre, Youth Conservatory, San Francisco – The Youth Conservatory offers full-year in-house and off-site professional training programs for children as young as age 5. Satellite programs (designed to offset cuts in theater arts instruction) allow students access to this instruction at their school site. Older kids can participate in the Young Audience Performance program alongside professional actors. The program presents four to five productions each year at schools and local youth centers. After-school program costs for younger children start at $125. For information, visit

​ San Francisco Opera Guild Opera Scouts – This performing and cultural arts organization for youth, aged 12-18, meets once a week, September through May, offering master-classes, performance opportunities, and professional and ensemble support for arts-minded students. A project based structure allows Scouts to achieve proficiency in opera, musical theater, drama, and component arts, while traveling locally, domestically and abroad to sing, exchange with other artists and see performances.  $300/year plus minimal activity fees. ​

Palo Alto Children’s Theatre, Palo Alto – A theatre "by and for young people," the Palo Alto Children’s Theatre programs include regular season productions, Hot Dog Suppertime Shows, Elementary and Middle School Outreach Productions, Summer Conservatory, Wingspread Summer Stock Company, Second Saturday Shows, as well as many classes, camps and special events. Audition information for upcoming performances is available in the winter 2008-2009 Enjoy Catalog, available online at Costs for classes range from $55 to $115 per session. For more information, visit the City of Palo Alto Web site at

Peninsula Youth Theatre (PYT), Mountain View – Children as young as 3 can learn about traditional acting and singing in the Peninsula Youth Theatre’s classes and intensive camps. PYT is committed to providing an enriching theatrical experience through a welcoming atmosphere that fosters the development of self-esteem, and nurtures social and communication skills. Auditions are open to students ages 8 to 18 (or those still in high school) and performance workshops are available for older preteens and teens (ages 12-18). Participation fee for performances is $175. PYT will be performing The Music Man from March 7-15. For information, visit

Performing Arts for Youth Society, Inc. (PAYS), Burlingame – Performing Arts for Youth Society produces shows involving youth throughout the area, including performances by the San Mateo High School Drama Department.  For information, visit

San Carlos Children’s Theater (SCCT), San Carlos – Seeking a way for local children to participate in acting classes and stage productions, SCCT offers a series of classes for children as young as 4. Winter courses include "Dramatic Imagination" (ages 4 to 5), which culminates in a mini theater performance. Children ages 10 and up learn physical acting, improvisation and how to audition in one of several classes offered for the more serious actor. SCCT produces approximately four shows each year, with prior productions including The Wizard of Oz and The Little Mermaid. Costs range from $85 to $148. For information, visit

TheatreWorks, Mountain View – TheatreWorks offers camps and conservatories to create educational and uplifting theatre experiences for all ages. For older kids, TheatreWorks holds general auditions (typically in January and the summer) and holds callbacks by invitation for each production throughout the year. TheatreWorks does not audition children under the age of 8. For information, visit

Young Performers Theatre (YPT), San Francisco – Children as young as 3 years old can enroll in YPT’s Theatre Arts Academy, where they can learn the fundamentals of dramatization. Courses include "Let’s Pretend" for ages 3 to 5; "Creative Drama" for ages 5 to 7; and "Musical Theatre" for ages 8 to 12. Advanced students from ages 9 and up are invited to audition for mainstage plays where they can work alongside adult actors in a professional production. Tuition ranges from $170 to $200. For information, visit

Youth Theatre Conservatory (part of Broadway By the Bay), Burlingame – The Youth Theatre Conservatory offers summer musical camps for children as young as 4, including five- and six-week camps that train children in all aspects of theatre. There are also year-round classes offered for younger students, including "Musical Theatre for Tiny Toes" and "Musical Theatre for Little Stars." Older kids can audition for Broadway Bound – a new performing troupe for the "serious, passionate and dedicated musical theatre student."  For information, visit

Jennifer Wake is a frequent contributor to Bay Area Parent and a mother of two.