Bridging the Gap Between Lack of Arts Funding and Career Pathways in Technical Theatre

Feature about the STARFISH PROJECT, a program by the Intiman Theatre.

Written by Maire Kennan, during TeenTix’s Beyond the Review Press Corps Intensive.

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We met Sam, Adem, and Faith along with Kyle Hartmann, around a large table on a cloudy day in April. Sam, Adem, and Faith are all students at Franklin High School in South Seattle, and members of STARFISH PROJECT and Kyle, is the STARFISH PROJECT program manager. The focus of our meeting: to learn and gain insight and information about STARFISH PROJECT.

STARFISH PROJECT, which started in 2017 in a woodshop at Franklin High School, works to provide professional access to education and career opportunities in theatre craft. The program takes place anywhere between six and nine weeks, three days a week, for three hours. Each iteration works to put on a show. The program usually starts with the school’s existing theatre program (if there is one), and works with actors from the drama club as well as students interested in carpentry, set design, lighting design, stage managing and more. Although STARFISH PROJECT works with three high schools: Chief Sealth, Franklin High School, and Rainier Beach High School, the program is not limited to students at those schools. Any 14-18 year olds (and older) in the Seattle area are welcome to join the program, although it is geared toward high school aged kids, and they hope to expand.

Kyle, the program coordinator of STARFISH PROJECT, greeted us with enthusiasm and bright energy. “Why these schools?” we asked.

“I would say the reasoning behind it is because those schools have the least amount of arts funding in the Seattle School district.” His hands moved as he talked, showing off bright green painted nails to match his eyes. “Our focus is on bridging the gap between the lack of funding, and career pathways in technical theatre.” Students have access to professional mentors within theatre craft to learn from.

“Storytelling does not just take place on stage, currently in theater there is work being done to diversify to make it more equitable. But not a lot of it is happening in terms of backstage. There are tons of white people in backstage, tons of straight white men.” Kyle and the other students laugh.

“No one should be denied access to the arts. Providing access is the key. STARFISH PROJECT is a way to do that.” He says.

Sam piped up. “When I did the program I was actually an actor in the show, but I also wanted to do tech as well, and the STARFISH PROJECT was nice enough to let me do both.”

“Acting is the main thing I’m interested in, but through STARFISH PROJECT I have been able to learn more skills that have made me more of a candidate to be working in theatre,” they said. “Knowing more people in the theatre community has allowed me to be more involved in theatre.”

Faith, the third student, soft spoken and earnest, shared her experience.

“For me, I didn't really see theatre as a real job before. When I joined STARFISH this fall, it really solidified that theatre is an actual job and a career you can go into.”

Adem, one of the students we met with, currently specializing in lighting design, shared his experience in STARFISH next. “A lot of us in the drama club enjoyed working with professionals and mentors.” A complete sweetheart, wearing a bright red sweatshirt and a calm smile, Adem says STARFISH made a big impact on him.

“It's because of STARFISH I wanted to go to college at all in the first place,” Adem says. “ I wasn't really considering college, but thanks to STARFISH I want to go to Cornish and I want to pursue a career in lighting design.”

“We were all doing this as a fun thing to do now the majority of us are looking into some sort of career and to continue working in this.”

After hearing about the project a bit, we all wanted to ask the same question of our interviewees: Why is it called STARFISH? Kyle and the students laugh.

“Long story short: it was one of the stretches we always did when we were warming up in the program. It was one of the stretches we were all looking forward to at the end of our days.” Adem says, smiling. He stretches his arms back into a starfish position, then laughs. “See, even now it feels good.”

Entering its third year, STARFISH hopes to expand, and continue to work to diversify and inform students without access to arts programs about career opportunities in technical theatre. Learn more at intiman.org/starfishproject

Lead photo credit: STARFISH PROJECT participants and TeenTix Press Corps writers after their interview during the Beyond the Review Press Corps Intensive.


Maire Kennan is an 8th grader at The Harbor School.

This article was written as part of the Beyond the Review Press Corps Intensive.

The TeenTix Press Corps promotes critical thinking, communication, and information literacy through criticism and journalism practice for teens. For more information about other Press Corps programs including the Teen Editorial Staff or the TeenTix Newsroom, see HERE.

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