Junior Players was founded in 1955, and is the oldest non-profit children's theater organization in Dallas. Over its sixty year existence, Junior Players has striven to meet the changing needs of the community. From 1955 to 1989, Junior Players presented traditional children's theater productions performed entirely by children and teenagers. In 1989, the Board of Directors changed the focus of Junior Players activities, deciding that, Junior Players can best serve the youth of Dallas by providing free programming accessible to all the children of North Texas. Junior Players, therefore, exclusively provides free arts education programs in local recreation and cultural centers, housing projects, elementary and middle schools, and through social service agencies serving youth at risk.
Junior Players' Discover Theater summer camps and Discover Ourselves after-school workshops focus on children ages 6 to 14 in underserved areas of the community. Junior Players' Discover Shakespeare! program combines the best of Dallas high-school acting talent with the professional skills of the Shakespeare Festival staff in a teen production of Shakespeare presented in free performances at Samuell-Grand Park. In collaboration with a variety of youth organizations, Junior Players teen and Peace Power programs work with high-risk teens who are challenged to write about their life experiences, create and perform their own productions, and resolve their conflicts through communication in a non-violent manner. Junior Players' Advanced Acting workshops and PUP Fest program offer professional training in acting and playwriting for high school students.
Junior Players has received numerous awards and recognition. Teatro del Barrio was cited as a model arts program for at-risk youth in Coming Up Taller, a national report by the President's Committee on the Arts and Humanities. Junior Players collaborated with KERA TV 13 in 1995 to create Peacemaker, a docudrama on violence and its effect on youth. Building on this experience, Junior Players received two United Way Venture Grants for Peace Power, an innovative after-school program for middle-school youth, teaching conflict resolution which was featured as a model prevention program. Junior Players also served as a local sponsor for Project BRIDGE, a state-wide multi-year initiative which attempts to link home, family and community in the inner city through the arts. In 2002, Junior Players' production of As You Like It was cited as one of the Top 10 Family Plays of the year by Nancy Churnin of the Dallas Morning News. According to Churnin, "It's not just the play that's the thing at Junior Players. It's the way the company puts kids first by making quality lessons and performances free for 4,000 kids a year." In 2003, Junior Players received the Arts Basic Award from the Texas Commission on the Arts, and a Special Award from the Dallas-Fort Worth Theater Critics Forum for "imaginatively staged and diversely cast plays, programs that encourage young artists (including PUP Fest, a playwriting program co-produced with Kitchen Dog Theater) and free performances and lessons to children and teens throughout the area."
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The mission of Junior Players is to encourage intellectual growth, mental well being and the development of life skills in the youth of North Texas through mentoring, creative expression, and participation in dramatic and arts activities.