In 1934, Dr. Clive McAllister, president of the Old Fort Players (now the Civic Theatre), appointed a committee to create a junior or children’s theater branch of the organization. The committee established the philosophy that the new “Children’s Theatre” would develop poise, better diction, and self-esteem for children through dramatic instruction. They would give at least one play a year, and awaken enthusiasm in children for beauty in art and integrity in dramatic literature.
The first class began with an enrollment of a whopping 40 students, each of which paid just $1.00 for 8 classes! The first production, “The Steadfast Tin Soldier,” was performed at the Majestic Theatre in Fort Wayne and had a cast of 75 young people. Tickets were only 10 cents for children and 25 cents for adults.
In 1954, the Majestic Theatre was deemed unsafe for children by the fire department and so the Children’s Theatre spent the next 10 years at various locations in the city. By the time it rejoined the Civic Theatre at the Old Palace Theatre, it had a new name, the “Fort Wayne Youtheatre.” In 1973, both organizations moved to their current home in the Arts United Center on E. Main Street in downtown Fort Wayne. The Youtheatre became autonomous in 1984.
In 1978, Broadway star Harvey Cocks became the Executive Director of Youtheatre. Even after retiring from that position, Harvey remained as an Artist in Residence. In 2010, he was joined by Leslie Hormann, who served as Executive/Artistic Director until 2018.
Youtheatre is currently managed by Executive/Artistic Director Todd Espeland, who came to us in 2018 after serving as Artistic Director of the Kalamazoo Civic Theatre. He is joined by Assistant Director/Director of Outreach Christopher J. Murphy and Marketing Director/Office Administrator Morgan Montgomery and a staff of outstanding local artists who serve as teachers, guest directors, choreographers, music directors and designers.
For over three quarters of a century, Youtheatre has produced classes, camps and theatrical productions for the artists and audiences of northeast Indiana. Recent productions include “Frozen Jr,” “Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory,” “The Lion, the Witch & the Wardrobe” and “Treasure Island.” Our touring “Youtheatre-On-The-Go” troupe takes literature-based shows into the community, performing in hospitals, libraries, community centers and more. In 2018, our Linda L. Ruffalo Young Heroes of Conscience Series, which has spotlighted the likes of Anne Frank, Ryan White, Harriet Tubman and Ruby Bridges, won the “Mayor’s Arts Award.”
As the fifth oldest active children’s theatre in the nation, Youtheatre is dedicated to its mission to “educate, engage and entertain” through quality theatrical experiences.