LA2050 Grants Challenge applications are open now through June 28th, 2024.
2023 Grants Challenge

Will Power to Youth

Will Power to Youth is The Shakespeare Center of Los Angeles' summer intensive program. We hire under-resourced youth as full-time, paid employees to study, create, produce, and perform adaptations of Shakespearean plays while building skills of responsibility, teamwork, communication, and workplace etiquette. Youth are guided by trained teaching artists/mentors, human relations facilitators, and peer mentors who are program alumni. The program culminates in public performances offered to audiences free-of-charge.


What is the primary issue area that your application will impact?

Access to Creative Industry Employment (sponsored by the Snap Foundation)

In which areas of Los Angeles will you be directly working?

East LA

County of Los Angeles

In what stage of innovation is this project, program, or initiative?

Expand existing project, program, or initiative

What is your understanding of the issue that you are seeking to address?

The Shakespeare Center of Los Angeles (SCLA) seeks to address: the systemic and structural racist practices embedded in white American theaters; the disproportionate lack of opportunities for artistic expression among under-resourced youth; a dearth of arts education in urban secondary public education; and a broad lack of awareness of the role the arts can play in advancing social justice. SCLA launched Will Power to Youth (WPY) in direct response to the 1992 Los Angeles civil unrest, when a renewed focus on employment, education, and community-building became an appropriate response to needs expressed by marginalized youth. WPY is intentionally operated during the summer, which is typically a high-risk time-correlating with when youth their age and in their neighborhoods often drop out of high school and/or get caught up in the justice system. Youth are paid as employees, allowing WPY to serve as their summer employment while communicating that they are valued as emerging artists.

Describe the project, program, or initiative this grant will support to address the issue.

Through WPY, approximately 25 low-income youth (ages 15-21) are hired as full-time, paid summer employees to study, create, produce, and perform adaptations of Shakespearean plays. Simultaneously, youth build skills of responsibility, teamwork, communication, and workplace etiquette. Participants are selected by interview, not audition. SCLA's primary selection criteria is a willingness to try something new. Youth are guided throughout by trained teaching artists/mentors, as well as peer mentors who are program alumni. Each WPY participant is engaged in both writing and performing in culminating production, but each participant also chooses an "artistic team" as their focus: Acting, Writing, Movement, Scenic Design, Costume Design, or Sound Design. Each artistic team is led by a professional Mentor Artist who teaches their content area and guides students in realizing their visions. After studying the designated play's themes (the play for 2024 is to-be-determined), youth work in groups to pitch production choices, such as time period, location, and suggestions for new characters. Once the production is cast, rehearsals begin with each participant paraphrasing their lines to ensure understanding, even when they ultimately speak Shakespearean English onstage. Each WPY program culminates in free public performances followed by facilitated post-show discussions with audiences full of youth's families, friends, educators, and SCLA regular theatergoers.

Describe how Los Angeles County will be different if your work is successful.

SCLA's vision is to cultivate a new generation of creative artists, leaders, and thinkers by empowering LA County's underrepresented youth. Through WPY, we seek to guide youth to "re-story" Shakespeare's texts into their own creative expressions that reflect the connection between the age-old inclinations expressed by Shakespeare's characters and their own perceptions, feelings, thoughts, and awareness. We define WPY's intended impact by the goals of offering: - Theater as a tool for transformation - Structured dialogue opportunities that improve respect for self, others, and community - Jobs to improve economic self-sufficiency - Literacy development and improvement of academic performance/educational resilience In summer 2023, WPY returns after a Covid-necessitated hiatus since 2019. In 2024, SCLA is embarking on overhaul of our downtown LA facilities. Our aim after these renovations (starting summer 2025) is to double the number of WPY participants we annually serve.

What evidence do you have that this project, program, or initiative is or will be successful, and how will you define and measure success?

SCLA implements a number of quantitative and qualitative strategies to assess WPY. We track attendance data and capture demographic information when attainable. For participants, we disseminate pre- and post-program surveys that measure growth of tangible skills, literacy, appreciation for the arts, and attitudes about people different from the participants themselves. We also send a follow-up questionnaire six months post-program to determine longer-term impacts. From 1993 through 2019, SCLA has employed more than 1,200 youth just through WPY alone, disbursing more than $2.4 million in wages. Third-party evaluation of WPY has previously found that after participation, on average youth typically score 20% higher than their peers on standardized state-wide English language acquisition exams and show notable improvements in their high school attendance and GPAs. While these outcomes correlate with our WPY program, they are also a testament to the youth we serve.

Approximately how many people will be impacted by this project, program, or initiative?

Direct Impact: 195

Indirect Impact: 600