“The Great White Way” may seem far away to many children in New York who have walked by Broadway theaters countless times but never been inside. According to Rosie O’Donnell, it’s “like living in Hawaii and not having access to the beach.” Determined to change this situation for children in the city, the actress and entertainer inspired Rosie’s Theater Kids, which was founded in 2003 by Artistic and Executive Director Lori Klinger.
Dedicated to providing theater, music and dance instruction for no cost to public schools and students in New York City, Rosie’s Theater Kids consists of an in-school program as well as a continuing program at Rosie’s school on West 45th Street for children with a special interest in the arts. The program, which began with 40 children, now boasts more than 2,000 members a year and serves more than 5,100 teachers, students, and their family members at 22 schools in Harlem, Midtown West, Chelsea, Lower East Side, East Village, Chinatown, and Brooklyn.
The children who participate in Rosie’s Theater Kids, “run the gamut of the social spectrum,” according to Klinger. “So many of the kids had never been to Broadway. They’ve walked by the theatre and never know what goes on behind those doors.”
By providing arts education as well as academic guidance, Rosie’s Theater Kids has significantly affected the academic careers of its students. According to Klinger, all of the recent graduates are in college, and many of them are the first in their families to attend college.
“We create a real supportive network for these kids, so they don’t fall through,” she said. “This is not a remedial room – just an academic room.”
Klinger credited the children’s success to the energy that performing inspires, saying, “When kids do something, what you have is energy. And when you have energy, you do better in everything.”
The energy of the theatrical community is also integral to the success of Rosie’s Kids, Klinger said, mentioning the generosity of the members of Rosie’s Theater Kids.
“They are the most generous people,” she said of members of artists and performers who devote their time to volunteering for charities and non-profit organizations. “The theater really makes a family.”
On Tuesday, March 27th, Rosie’s Kids will be performing a show they learned in tandem with mentors like Audra McDonald, BD Wong and Derrick K. Grant. The show, titled “Passing It On,” will be held at the Alvin Ailey ballet theater (405 West 55th Street). Click here to purchase tickets to the performance and after party!