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Developing Artists Theater Company

Teaching teens to relentlessly fight for positive social change through practical application of the performing arts since 1999.

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Developing Artists (DA) teaches undervalued teens to relentlessly fight for positive social change through practical application of the performing arts. We help diverse students to proclaim themselves as artists and activists, to find their place and their connection in their community, and to bring about positive social change through participation in the arts.

DA offers rigorous theater education to underserved high school students (aged 13-19) in the New York City metropolitan area and produces REBEL VERSES Youth Arts Festival. Our goal is to provide young people with professional performing arts training that will equip them with valuable artistic and life skills, and the confidence to take action in their lives.
DA was founded in 1999 with a simple act of protest against youth discrimination. Following Artistic Director Jill DeArmon's experiences teaching performing arts in NYC public schools and established studios, she was astonished by the lack of freedom students were given to create and empower and felt they were censored rather than amplified and trusted. While teaching at one of these institutions, she was threatened to either stay and stick to the status quo or be fired. Jill told her class that she was leaving, because she could not accept ageism towards her students. Every student decided to follow her out and the first DA Ensemble was born. In collaboration with the ensemble, Jill offered classes where teens could be heard, with support to create original work that tackles important social issues. She committed to empowering students through art by giving them practical tools to express themselves and learn to collaborate.

We impact students by creating a forum to navigate life's increasing challenges (e.g. age discrimination, social injustices, gender inequality, institutional racism, economic disparity, sexism); to use their voice in dealing with these issues; and channel that energy into self-expression and self-confidence. DA has a track record of engaging positively with those who face significant barriers in their daily lives.

Developing Artists serves students aged 13 to 19 from all five boroughs of New York. 35% of our students identify as Latinx, 40% as African American, 20% as Caucasian, and 5% as Asian/other. Most of our students face socio-economic challenges; many experience physical, sexual or emotional abuse. We are committed to invite and include all of these young artists so their voices can be heard, their lives healed and their lifetime trajectory changed.

We can confidently say that participation in our programs has a life-changing long-term impact on the young people we serve – 95% of whom go onto college. We know that our students subsequently utilize their arts training in their careers in a variety of different ways – as professional artists, writers, producers, drama therapists, etc. In our recent past, we helped DA students get into notable high school and college performing arts programs, and some have gone on to study at prestigious institutions such as The Juilliard School, University of North Carolina School of the Arts, New School, Royal Conservatory of Scotland, Liverpool Institute of the Performing Arts, Fordham University, Rutgers University, NYU Tisch School of the Arts, AMDA, Elon College and Yale Drama.

In the past, we charged for classes while providing full or partial scholarships for students in need (about 85% of students received a full or partial scholarship). In 2018, Developing Artists began making all classes 100% FREE so that we could abolish this financial barrier once and for all, and serve those students who were overlooked by so many other programs.

As emphasized in our mission, equity, access and inclusion are some of our primary objectives. The last three years also helped solidify the identity of DA: Our ensemble engages with individuals on the frontline of important social issues then utilizing various performing arts, we bring to light these issues to a broader audience as we seek allies along the way to impact positive social change. Developing Artists was tapped to perform in numerous events including: We Rise: A Celebration of Resistance at the Delacorte Theatre (Public Forum in Collaboration with Resistance Revival Chorus), New York Women’s Foundations Celebrating Women Breakfast 2019, City Hall rally hosted by New York 4 Culture and Art to protest the proposed 6 millions dollar cut in cultural and arts funding. Developing Artists’ trajectory is leading us to connect and work with many social justice organizations for our future projects.

Through the years, DA has directly served over 3,000 students and thousands of audience members. DA fostered a community of diverse artist citizens and maintains ongoing connections with our alumni network, some of which return as Teaching Artists. One alumnus, Julian Elijah Martinez, recently made his Broadway debut in NETWORK starring Bryan Cranston and was one of the stars of WU-TANG: AN AMERICAN SAGA on Hulu. Another alumna, Jessica Asch, Program Creator and Lead Clinician at Shine MSD, Inc, became a licensed arts and drama therapist whose work with at-risk youth has included developing and implementing a creative arts therapy program around collective healing in Parkland, Florida.

REBEL VERSES Youth Arts Festival
Founded in 2001, REBEL VERSES is a 2-week festival of performances by some of the best youth companies in NYC & beyond. This festival was born out of the dire need here in New York City for new voices in theater. It is a journey into the unapologetic, unrelenting creativity of the next generation. Since the festival’s inception, REBEL VERSES has provided youth companies with the opportunity to collaborate and network with their peers and prominent artists, encouraging the development of new works in theater through this two-week event. In 2017, Developing Artists began a partnership with the notable Vineyard Theatre to co-produce REBEL VERSES. The Vineyard Theatre (108 East 15th) hosts RV at its 132-seat off-Broadway venue and provides technical, management, audience development and promotional support, resulting in increased visibility, participation and audiences for REBEL VERSES.

"I’ve been continually impressed with these students’ critical engagement with the most pressing issues of our day: social responsibility, economic access, representational inequity, voting rights, and much more. On top of their mastery of civic literacy, they are astonishingly talented artists, both as writers and performers.

These teens’ capacity for this level of discourse and creativity is clearly traceable to their training and experience through Developing Artists. Jill and Jinn’s personal and professional dedication to the holistic development and success of each student is total. Their high expectations elicit excellence, dedication, maturity, and long-lasting relationships across a wide diversity of backgrounds. They’ve formed a family commitment to one another that far exceeds any after-school arts program I know."

Kenneth J. Cerniglia, PhD
Former Literary Manager and Dramaturg, Disney Theatrical Productions Past President, Literary Managers and Dramaturgs of the Americas (LMDA)

New York, NY
Small organization
A 501(c)(3) nonprofit, EIN 20-2798203

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