Just Believe and Receive It; Love will Perform It Today

On a Thursday afternoon, over 100 teens gathered in the theater of Kentridge High School. Sitting in clusters throughout the audience seats, they chatted amongst themselves, occasionally rowdy, occasionally subdued. A well-loved baby grand piano sat onstage with a few adults checking in with each other, reviewing documents, watching the time on watches and phones and keeping their eyes on the door as stragglers continued to enter.

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Kentridge High School Drama Teacher Jennifer Grajewski with students from Kentridge and Kent Meridian High School. Photo credit Tracy Martin

The gathering of young people represented the full spectrum of the student body with emissaries from A.S.B. (Associated Student Body), G.S.A. (Gender and Sexuality Alliance), L.E.A.P. (Latino/a Educational Achievement Project), M.S.A. (Muslim Student Association), Men on the Move (for young men of color), Y.E.L.L. (Young Educated Ladies Leading for young women of color), and more in attendance. Adding to the excitement to the buzz in the room were students from Kent Meridian High School making their way in. This was a gathering of students participating in a rally in honor of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. in January—one of the first meetings where the kids were getting on their feet, leaving the brainstorming stages behind them. Continue reading “Just Believe and Receive It; Love will Perform It Today”

Rising Star Project: the Next Stage

Six years ago, the first iteration of something truly special took place at The 5th Avenue Theatre. Following the mainstage production of Rodgers & Hammerstein’s Oklahoma, it was simply called “The Oklahoma Project.” The idea was to invite students from all over Puget Sound to remount our professional production on our stage under the direct mentorship of 5th Avenue professionals. Students were invited to perform, to stage manage the production, to work the technical elements, move scenery, alter costumes, fit and style wigs, manage fundraising campaigns, set ad budgets and project manage direct mail campaigns.

In all its many facets, the project was, in a word, unique. Continue reading “Rising Star Project: the Next Stage”

Behind the Curtain: Rising Star Project Rehearsal

We’re lucky to be part of an amazing group of students participating in Rising Star Project: The Pajama Game. Everyone from acting students to administration students have been collaborating to ensure that the project runs smoothly and that the outcome is unforgettable for all of us. We are so excited to show you what we’ve been working on. We can’t wait to see you come and support this product on which we’ve all been working so hard. — Marketing Students Eliana Coe and Yvonne Mmata Continue reading “Behind the Curtain: Rising Star Project Rehearsal”

Creating Common Ground: Reflections on the First Day of Rising Star Project’s Empowering Young Artists Initiative (EYAI)

about-rspIn 1996, August Wilson famously stated: “We can meet on the common ground of the American theater.” He also insisted that “we must develop the ground together.”

These are the words that I can’t help but recall as I sit on the floor of our rehearsal studio surrounded by 19 young performers— the inaugural cohort of the Empowering Young Artists Initiative (EYAI)—as they meet together for the first time. Continue reading “Creating Common Ground: Reflections on the First Day of Rising Star Project’s Empowering Young Artists Initiative (EYAI)”

Rising Star Project Orientation: Students From Across the State Gather!

In early December, the 2016/17 Rising Star Project cohort came together for the first time. This orientation was a chance for the teens to meet and to begin learning what it takes to put up a musical at The 5th. This year’s cohort will include over 90 students who will be mentored by 5th Avenue staff and who will also mount an all-teen production of The Pajama Game on our stage in March 2017 (after the professional production closes).

This year’s Rising Star Project brings students together from as far away as Yakima and Marysville and as near as Rainier Valley and West Seattle.


Orientation included a tour of the historic venue where the students will be working and learning in the coming months. Continue reading “Rising Star Project Orientation: Students From Across the State Gather!”

By the Numbers: Wrap Up of the 2015/16 Season for the Education Department

Thank you to the generous corporations, foundations, government agencies, board members, and countless individual donors who supported our education programs this season. With your help we reached over 83,000 students across the Pacific Northwest region, increased our service by 14% and kept our thriving programs accessible to all students.

Here’s a closer look….
Continue reading “By the Numbers: Wrap Up of the 2015/16 Season for the Education Department”

Rising Star Project Participants Tell You About Their Experience

The Rising Star Project wrapped up this last weekend with smashing performances of How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying. These students filled roles on stage, in the orchestra, on the crew, behind the scenes and in administrative roles. They have certainly learned a lot of new real world skills along the journey to producing their own show right on our stage.

Natalie and Isabelle’s Rising Star Project Experience

Natalie and Isabelle are getting ready for opening night of the Rising Star Project. In its 5th year, the Rising Star Project is presenting their production of How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying right here on our stage. Seventy-nine talented teens are working on every aspect of the full scale production—from the cast and orchestra to arts administration and the backstage technicians. Here is what Natalie and Isabelle have to say about their experience so far.

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Natalie and Isabelle
Ages 15 and 18

Why did you want to participate in Rising Star Project?

 Natalie: I wanted to participate because I wanted to learn more about working at the theater. It’s helpful to know how to respond in stressful situations and I get to learn how to be in high energy situations.

Isabelle: I wanted to participate in RSP because I have been involved for three years – it has always been a great experience.

 What have you enjoyed most so far this year?

 Natalie: I like learning and experiencing new things. Although I am in the same job as last year (which I love!), I get to learn more about my area of tech – My mentor is giving me more responsibility and I love it!

 Isabelle: I love that we are trained by professionals and get to learn so much from them! They are very helpful.

 What new skills have you learned?

Natalie: I have learned how to “knife the dog”! – which is a fun term for how to work the automated tracks that move set pieces back and forth on stage.

Isabelle: I learned how to put on a wig, how to set up a microphone, how to sew better, and how to properly quick change an actor!

 Has Rising Star Project taught you anything about yourself?

Natalie: I have learned that I am a hard worker, I like to work in high energy and I can keep my cool under pressure. I also learned that I can get along with many different people and work well with everyone.

Isabelle: I have learned that I really would like to work in theatre and I love the technical aspects of the show!

What would you like to say to the supporters of The 5th?

 Isabelle: Thank you so much for helping to support RSP. This is truly an incredible opportunity for all of the students – including me!

Natalie: It’s so wonderful that donors support us because I could never pay for this experience and I have gained real workplace skills that will help me in the future. Thank you very much for giving me this fantastic opportunity. Because of you, I have been able to grow, learn, interact, and develop new skills that I will use for the rest of my life!

Come see Rising Star Project: How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying on March 4 and 5. Click here to find out more and buy tickets.

Highlights from the Rising Star Project Kick Off Weekend

Last weekend, teens representing over 40 Washington high schools gathered at The 5th to celebrate the start of Rising Star Project rehearsals.  In March they will present their own production of How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying and members of the professional cast and crew also joined in the festivities.

Such an auspicious occasion, always calls for a “kick off” dance routine:


20160130 RSP KickOff Kyle Nik Atreal

Professional company members, Kyle Carter (left) and Nik Hagen (right) had no shortage of wisdom to begin dispensing.

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The mission of Rising Star Project puts a focus on community building, leadership, and love for musical theater.  To learn more, visit our website.

And don’t miss the Rising Star Project production of How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying!
March 4, 8 PM & March 5, 2 PM

Get your tickets today!

By ORLANDO MORALES, Director of Rising Star Project and Internships

A Uniquely American Quilt: Partners in Empowering Youth Through Musical Theater


Sheri and Les Biller chat with Rising Star Project students backstage.

The Rising Star Project was first presented in 2011, and since 2013 it has grown and developed in partnership with The Sheri and Les Biller Family Foundation. While preparing for this year’s Rising Star Project—our fifth year mentoring Washington teenagers—we chat with Sheri and Les about their hopes and goals for the program to continue creating new opportunities for students, the community and the theater.


“Musical theater is America’s art form. It’s our quilt,” says Sheri with a smile.  “It has enabled us to share stories and discuss social issues through every critical period in our nation’s history. This is why it’s so important that we continue nourishing the growth of musical theater.”

The Rising Star Project is part of a diverse and ambitious portfolio of initiatives led by The Sheri and Les Biller Family Foundation. Driven by a mission to invest in bold ideas that inspire collective action in order to achieve powerful results, the Foundation makes grants to numerous organizations in Washington State and Los Angeles County.

Les: “We work in four areas—supportive care, public education, career training and theater arts. We want to try to do as much as we can in these areas to benefit the community and to advance positive and sustainable change.”

The story of how theater enrichment—and more specifically, Rising Star Project—has become an integral part of the Foundation’s vision begins with Sheri’s childhood:



Sheri: “Theater was a big part of my youth. It was important to my family. As a child and as a teenager, I had my share of issues and got bored in school. But one of the things that saved me was being around theater, being involved in theater, and performing in theater. Having this creative outlet helped me learn how to express myself, and in such a positive way.”


Les: “I came to theater through Sheri. It wasn’t necessarily a part of my childhood—but through Sheri, I became a lover of theater and musical theater. Sheri also brought into focus for me how theater can have a social impact.”

The beginning of a new partnership

Sheri: “Because I have firsthand experience with the importance of exposure to theater as a young person, we seek to support inspiring theatre productions with immersive educational components. We believe that students need to have the arts in their lives if they are to become well-rounded adults.backstage_300x150

What caught our attention about Rising Star Project is that it isn’t just an arts program. We realized it touched on all four pillars of our Foundation’s work—theater, public education, job training and, as far as I’m concerned, supportive care as well. It embraces young people and can help them deal with issues in their lives. It’s very supportive in that sense. And exactly the kind of program we needed to become involved with.”

Collaboration, new ideas, and lots of fun

tech_300x150Les: “We love Rising Star Project because it teaches life skills. We like that it brings kids from different parts of our community together in a unique setting where they learn how to work together as a team and gain self-confidence while doing it. The other part of Rising Star Project that we are very proud of is when we bring new audiences from local schools lacking access to arts programming into the theater. The students see themselves reflected in the people their age on stage and behind the scenes.”

Sheri: “But Les and I also value the act of collaborating with others. Trying to create collaboration between an arts organization and a foundation may have its challenges, but the important thing is that people are willing to work together and try new ideas. And that also makes it a lot of fun.”

Sheri also draws a connection between the Rising Star Project partnership and the collaborative nature that is intrinsic to musical theater.

Sheri: “If we’re making a musical, it’s not just about having great voices and great performers. There are so many other important roles that are required for this to succeed. Most students don’t understand that. Most adults don’t understand that. When they go to a musical, most people only notice the orchestra and the actors standing on the stage. And of course, that is only a small piece of the puzzle. There are many squares on the quilt.”

“And now we’re back to talking about quilts,” she laughs.

onstage_600x300Stories for the future

Sheri: “Another dream for Rising Star Project and this partnership is in the possibility of encouraging other communities to do this as well. In the coming years, could we multiply tenfold the number of students who can participate?  We want to work with The 5th to create an example—the model for others to follow.”

Les: “It’s important work. We have thousands of years of history. And history is a form of storytelling—whether it’s done in a verbal way, or visual way, or done through performing a musical. We’re telling stories and that’s how history and values get passed down from generation to generation.

“My other hope is that while this important work is happening, the broader community will realize what it’s about and will also want to get involved and support it. We hope that the Rising Star Project story is one that is widely told and widely known and that many people will want to be a part of the story as well.”


Click here to buy tickets for the Rising Star Project’s performances of How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying. Or click here to find out more about the Rising Star Project.

By ORLANDO MORALES, Director of Rising Star Project and Internships