By Dorany Pineda
UNIVERSITY PARK — When the idea for 24th Street Theatre first emerged 21 years ago, its founders envisioned a traditional playhouse.
But when Jay McAdams — the nonprofit’s executive director — and his partners began exploring the theater’s surroundings, they soon noticed the community needed more.
“We started to meet people in the neighborhood and realized that these kids in the neighborhood didn’t know what theater was. They had never seen a play,” McAdams said.
“We quickly realized that we had the chance to make a difference in the neighborhood, that it wouldn’t just be about putting actors together to make plays.”
Since the theater’s founding in 1997, it’s commitment to the community has been executed in three ways: with plays, community service and arts education.
One of its arts education programs, Enter Stage Right, introduces elementary school children to theater through improvisation techniques that include sets, lights, sounds, live music and other production components. Every year, between 7,000 and 8,000 students in the Los Angeles Unified School District participate in this interactive program.
High school students can apply to the Teen Leadership Academy, which offers field trips to college campuses and local art centers like the Pasadena Playhouse and the Los Angeles County Museum of Art.
Academy students also mentor kids in After Cool — a free after-school tutoring and theater arts program. The academy’s teens learn about responsibility, job readiness and how to balance work, school and extracurricular activities while building leadership skills.
McAdams said the community has welcomed the theater, adding that parents often express what a positive difference it has made in their neighborhood and in their children’s lives.
“People come to us in need and we try to deliver,” he said.
Recently, a family with a long history in the organization lost its home to a fire. Theater staff scrambled to help, taking the family food and gathering toiletries, clothing and other necessities for them.
“That’s stuff that theaters just don’t do,” he said.
A few years ago, something else happened that’s unusual for nonprofit theaters: the U.S. Embassy in El Salvador invited 24th Street Theatre to visit that country. Actors ran professional workshops and trainings in Spanish and taught theater classes in orphanages. Since then, ambassadors in El Salvador have invited the organization four times to the Central American country.
“It’s just been so clear to us that [our visits] are impactful because of the relationships we’ve built,” McAdams said. “We still hear from those people [in El Salvador].”
And it is those individual, community and international relationships that have kept 24th Street Theatre alive and a fixture in Los Angeles for more than two decades.
“Rarely does a day goes by when someone walks through our doors and something beautiful happens,” McAdams said. “Almost every day, something comes by where your eyes well up with tears and you say ‘Aha! That’s why we’re here.’”
Executive Director: Jay McAdams
Years in operation: 21
Number of employees: 5
Annual budget: $600,000 to $800,000
Location: 1117 W. 24th St., Los Angeles 90007