Looking to Expand Your Theater's Outreach to Military Families? Here's One Way.

We recently reported that San Diego's Cygnet Theatre received a two-year $187,000 grant from the James Irvine Foundation's Exploring Engagement Fund to "begin the research and implementation of a plan to provide quality theatre programs and mainstage shows for low-income military personnel and veterans in the San Diego area."

We also noted that Cygnet's experiences in the last few years are a useful case study for other theaters reaching out to their local military communities. After all, while Cygnet was based in San Diego — a military town if there ever was one — it lacked strong links to the community. Slowly but surely, it established a bond with the area's military families, critically becoming a Blue Star Theatre in February 2015.

The Blue Star Theatre program is a collaboration between Theatre Communications Group (TCG) and Blue Star Families, with leadership support from the MetLife Foundation. As previously noted here at IP, its goal is to strengten relationships between military families and local theaters. And since its inception in 2012, in which it included 22 participating theaters, it has grown by leaps and bounds. There are now currently 151 participating theaters.

To that end, the TCG and Blue Star Families recently announced the latest round of the Blue Star Theatres Grant Program, with the additional support of MetLife Foundation. The four participating theaters will receive $5,000 to support activities that can include talkbacks, outreach programs, sponsored tickets, performances, playwriting workshops, readings, and workshops that focus on military themes and service. Here are the winners:

  • Cape Fear Regional Theatre in Fayetteville, NC is presenting the world premiere of Downrange: Voices from the Homefront in March, 2016. The play is based on interviews with spouses about the impact of deployment on military families.
  • Geffen Playhouse in Los Angeles, CA held focus groups to hear directly from veterans about their top issues in early 2015.
  • History Theatre in St. Paul, MN engaged with over 100 Minnesota military veterans and their families around the production of The Things They Carried, based on the award-winning novel by Minnesota author Tim O'Brien.
  • Hudson Valley Shakespeare Fesvital in Cold Spring/Garrison, NY will work to deepen its relationship with the West Point-U.S. Military Academy community across the Hudson River. 

Given the growth of this program, we anticipate many nonprofit organizations may say, "Hey, this actually makes sense for us." And as the list of participating theaters indicates, not every theater is based in a huge military town like San Diego or Norfolk. Quite the opposite, in fact. You'll see many small town theaters like Two River Theater Company in Red Bank, New Jersey and Bristol Riverside Theatre in Bristol, Pennsylvania.

So, how can a nonprofit theater become a Blue Star Theatre? First, you must be a TCG Member Theater. Secondly, the program's requirements page asks applicants to "determine what your theatre is able to offer military personnel and their families" and to "build a new webpage on your theatre's website for a military audience, listing program and ticket offerings to military families." 

Click here to find more info about the program.