This article originally appeared in the Desert Sun, December 2021.
Since 1997, McCallum Theatre Education has been serving students, educators, and community members with performances and arts education experiences. In addition to making the arts accessible to local students, it also has projects like the Palm Desert Choreography Festival and the Open Call Talent Project which help to develop local artists.
The McCallum’s Theater Education program serves every school in the Coachella Valley and reaches tens of thousands of students every year. The organization strives to provide meaningful and impactful programming. In normal years students are bussed in for 20 performances, many of them seeing live theater for the first time. The program also provides curriculum in the classroom before and after students attend the show.
“This is our responsibility to the community as a top tier arts center and our responsibility to the youth who are just in the process of learning who they are,” the organization’s Vice President of Development, Yvonne Bell said. “We are creating good, compassionate, empathetic, creative citizens.”
In March of 2020, the organization was forced to shift the way it provides its programs. This year, the McCallum served 31,000 students through Zoom in coordination with its teaching artists. Students participate in activities that encourage them to move around, think, and engage with the theatrical work they are experiencing.
The programming has been impactful, according to Bell. A third-grade class at Sunny Sands Elementary in Cathedral City watched a performance of The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane, participated in an activity led by their teacher and the teaching artist, and were assigned homework. Each student was instructed to pick their favorite part of the performance and share a reenactment of it the next day.
One of the girls in the class who had always been reserved and hadn’t engaged when the programming was held in person, took the assignment one step further. At home, she created a video where she directed her siblings and parents in different roles enacting her chosen scene. Her teachers and the McCallum staff were impressed by the enormous amount of creativity she displayed as both a director and being one of the actors.
“It’s amazing seeing the arts bring a student out their shell, empowering them and helping them discover a part of themselves they didn’t know existed,” Bell said. “That to me is what the arts can do and what our education programs can do.”
Recently, the organization received a grant from a donor advised fund through the Inland Empire Community Foundation. The McCallum Theatre is a nonprofit organization and only 60% of its budget is covered by ticket sales. Remaining expenses and support for its educational programming require philanthropic support.
The importance of the performing arts was made apparent during the pandemic when it was suddenly unavailable, according to Bell. The Mcallum is the largest theatre in the Coachella Valley, serving the entire region from the East Valley to Palm Springs through the performing arts. At its core, theater is about bringing people together where they can witness the stories of others, building empathy and community through shared experiences, Bell said.
McCallum Theatre has a full schedule of performances this year and hopes to return to in-class programming for students as soon as schools can accommodate it again. The organization encourages the community to come to a performance with a friend and consider supporting the Theatre. Attendees are required to show proof of vaccination or a negative COVID-19 test from 72 hours before the performance. The McCallum also provides full refunds if an individual decides that are uncomfortable attending.
“The arts aren’t just entertainment; they feed your soul,” Bell said. “The theater experience isn’t just about what happens when you sit in your seat it’s about what you take from the experience and bring back into your life.”
More information: https://www.mccallumtheatre.com/ or (760) 346-6505
Photo #1: front row (l-r) Jerome Angel, Mary Angel, Tracy Moss Thompson, Col. Howard Thompson, Gary Geske back row: (l-r) Barry Kaiman, Toni Victor, Stan Hack, Ros Hack, Barbara Rogers, Peggy Donohue-Berk (photo by Marc Glassman) These guests attended a recent Welcome Back Celebration as the McCallum reopened after more than 610 days between performances.
Photo #2: Zoom class / McCallum Theatre Education online workshop with Bella Vista 5th Grade, Evan Boomer, Teacher
Photo #3: Schoolbuses coming to Field Trip Series performances presented by McCallum Theatre Education (photo by Scott Campbell)