Envisioning the Future of Theater for Young Audiences

Report cover for Envisioning the Future of Theater for Young Audiences showing two children pointing excitedly towards a stage.

Washington, DC—Recognizing the benefits of theater experiences in developing creative, adept, and resilient young people, the National Endowment for the Arts is releasing Envisioning the Future of Theater for Young Audiences. While the country copes with the ravages of COVID-19 and begins to think about what a post-pandemic world might look like, it is worth considering how best to shape a sustainable future for the field of theater for young audiences (TYA).

This report was prepared in partnership with the national association Theatre for Young Audiences/USA (TYA/USA). It follows a June 2019 meeting convened by the Arts Endowment, TYA/USA, and Theatre Communications Group to tackle some of the structural and societal challenges facing the field and consider ways to overcome those challenges.

“The National Endowment for the Arts understands the role of theaters for young audiences in preparing our next generation to inherit a world that has become dramatically more complex,” said Mary Anne Carter, chairman of the National Endowment for the Arts. “The value of providing theater experiences for young people and supporting the organizations creating those experiences is even more vital now.”

"At a moment when the TYA field (and the entire arts sector) faces so much uncertainty, this landmark report from the Arts Endowment is a shining light in the darkness. The research it offers makes a compelling case for the impact the arts have on young people at a time when articulating this message has new urgency," said Jonathan Shmidt Chapman, executive director of TYA/USA.

The report begins with identifying obstacles to achieving greater organizational stability, including:

  • Funding: Among arts funders, some classify TYA as education rather than art, while education funders look at the work as art and not primarily education. So TYA organizations are caught in the middle.
  • Limitations of the business model: Theater organizations targeting adult audiences are able to charge higher ticket prices for productions of equal artistic quality and complexity to those offered by TYA organizations. This leads to a discrepancy in earned income potential.
  • Leadership development: Most training programs for TYA organizations are practice-based, while training for adult-focused theater tends to center on organizational management, providing business skills for emerging theater managers and encouraging their hiring by adult-focused theaters.
  • Research: Despite more and better research on the impact of theater on young people, the TYA field has not been able to incorporate that research into its programs and to forge partnerships with other youth-serving organizations.

The opportunities for the TYA field include greater collaboration among theaters targeting different audiences; encouraging coverage from arts journalists; and greater recognition among funders of the value of TYA programs and productions.

The full report including supporting research and a summary of the June 2019 convening is available on the Arts Endowment website.

Theatre for Young Audiences/USA (TYA/USA) is the leading national organization committed to the professional field of theater for children, young adults, and families. TYA/USA represents nearly 1000 TYA theatres, arts organizations, and individual arts professionals across 42 states. Dedicated to ensuring that all young people have access to high-quality theatre experiences, TYA/USA offers a variety of programming that connects professionals working in the sector through in-person gatherings and virtual sessions; provides opportunities for field-wide learning and leadership development; disseminates field news and research through a variety of print and online channels; and advances the field both internally and externally through a range of advocacy efforts. Founded in 1965, TYA/USA is the United States Center for the International Association of Theatre for Children and Young People (ASSITEJ). Visit tyausa.org to learn more.

About the National Endowment for the Arts

Established by Congress in 1965, the National Endowment for the Arts is the independent federal agency whose funding and support gives Americans the opportunity to participate in the arts, exercise their imaginations, and develop their creative capacities. Through partnerships with state arts agencies, local leaders, other federal agencies, and the philanthropic sector, the Arts Endowment supports arts learning, affirms and celebrates America’s rich and diverse cultural heritage, and extends its work to promote equal access to the arts in every community across America. Visit arts.gov to learn more.


Victoria Hutter