Young Stars Theatre was originally formed in Jacksonville Beach, FL in 2000. The program founders, Jack and Gloria Bennett, were doing a yearly summer musical theatre and drama camp with 40-50 youth (18 and under) every summer. Gloria was a voice teacher and private studio owner with a full roster of her own private voice students and several teachers working for her, and Jack was a professional actor who, with Gloria, taught acting classes to youth. It hit them after a few years of doing the summer camps that there was very little opportunity for these youth to participate in theatre the rest of the year.
This realization inspired the idea to create a community theatre just for youth actors, and Young Stars Theatre was born. They literally carved out a performance space in Gloria’s private studio. That first theatre had a stage 13.5 feet wide by 8 feet deep, and could seat up to 42 audience members. They did regular shows there, a new show about every 2 months, 2 to 3 weekends of performances for each show, and raised a dedicated following of audience members who were consistently impressed with the high level of the youth productions.
After a little over 2 years of this, the building where the theatre was located was sold, and the new owners wanted to raise the lease by nearly 30%, which made it prohibitive to stay at that location. The studio moved to a smaller space, and YST was in limbo.
In 2004, Jack and Gloria moved to Los Angeles. Their daughter, Miranda, who had been active in the theatre in Florida (including professional Equity theatre) wanted to get into theatre in California. They were somewhat shocked to learn that although there was an abundance of children’s theatre, every theatre charged fees in some way to the participants, some as high as $800. While they understood the reality that theatre costs money to produce, they also realized that fees this high would likely exclude many youth from ever participating. So in 2007, Young Stars Theatre made its Southern California debut with a production of The Sherlock Society, an original play by George Demme (Gloria’s father) at The Actor’s Workout Studio in North Hollywood.
The idea of community theatre for youth actors seemed to strike a real chord in Los Angeles. Soon, YST was looking for a theatre to call their own. At the beginning of 2008, Gloria found a retail space on Sherman Way. Where other people saw a big empty room with little but a front door, a toilet and a sink, Gloria saw a theatre. With the help of donated labor from a contractor, Bill Lippold, donated pews and other building materials found on Craigslist, and a few thousand dollars in new materials, they were up and running with their first show in February of 2008.
Young Stars Theatre produced 11 shows in 2008 in their new space, nearly one a month, most with at least two and sometimes three completely different casts. Jack was working a full-time day job, and spending nearly every night at the theatre, either rehearsing, teaching, or building, and Gloria maintained a full roster of private voice students while also spending nearly every night at the theatre.
This schedule proved exhausting, and both Jack and Gloria ended up in the hospital at different times at the end of the year. These health issues, along with the slipping economy, forced Jack and Gloria to scale back to just 10 shows for 2009. The economic reality of 2009 still caught up with YST, and their final show in that space was A Christmas Carol. They shut the doors for the last time on December 15, 2009. The ray of sunshine came at almost the same time. They received their final letter of determination from the IRS that YST was a full 501(c)3 non-profit corporation, thanks to the efforts of attorney Karla Shippey.
THE GOOD NEWS:
As of January 2016 YST is back in their own theatre! The beautiful Fremont Centre Theatre in South Pasadena is YST’s home for the foreseeable future, and they couldn’t be more thrilled!