10 incredible Children's Theaters sure to entertain kids...and kids-at-heart of all ages!

The history of children's theatre in the United States can be traced to the 1880s. It experienced a growth spurt in the late 1930s, thanks to the involvement of the Federal Theatre Project, which was a depression-era effort sponsored by the Works Progress Administration (WPA) as part of the New Deal programs. The goal was to foster and support live performances of music and theater to enrich the lives of America's citizens while keeping people working. It is estimated to have employed more than 15,000 actors while entertaining some 30 million people across the nation. Notable artists like Orson Welles, Burt Lancaster and Elia Kazan came into the spotlight during this time of patronage.

Early children's theatre performances were staged to entertain children, but as the movement gained strength, the children were encouraged to get involved in front of and behind the curtain and now most troupes actively recruit and audition the next generation of Tony award winners.

Whether you're looking for a front row seat or a break-out role for your budding thespian, find a children's theatre from amongst this line up.

1. The Children's Theatre of Charleston, Charleston, West Virginia

The Children's Theatre of Charleston was founded in 1932 by Miss Sara Spencer, who was a drama teacher and early proponent of the craft. She formed a group that performed their first full season in 1932-33 and quickly won the support of the Junior League of Charleston. They incorporated and became chartered with the state of West Virginia in 1945 and were designated the Official West Virginia Children's Theatre in 1961 by then governor W.W. Baron. The theatre welcomes all comers to audition for or watch their shows and they proclaim the many benefits of joining their troupe, including increased confidence, creativity and self esteem. They even suggest it can "change your life" and we bet most child stars would agree.

2. Riverdale Children's Theatre, Bronx, New York

The mission of the Riverdale Children's Theatre is bring children from varying backgrounds together to discover the "joy of performing" while learning about themselves and each other. It also encourages cooperation and creativity. Calls for auditions go out for kids in grades 2-12 and the close proximity to the New York theatre scene guarantees the productions will be directed and choreographed by some of the nation's best talent.

3. Missoula Children's Theatre, Missoula, Montana

In Missoula they come together at the Missoula Community Theatre (MCT) to tease out their inner actor. They also take the show on the road earning the distinction of "world's largest touring children's theatre." MCT sends their truck and two professionals across the country to offer a week-long immersion for 50-60 students that culminates in a performance, which for some can be a once in a lifetime event or the catalyst for a career in the performing arts. In the stationary location they offer camps, classes and community theatre accessible to all.

4. Children's Museum & Theatre of Maine, Portland, Maine

As both a museum and theatre, the Children's Museum & Theatre of Maine has a dual mission to educate and entertain. Arts, Science, Multicultural and Early Childhood Education are their four pillars and they have been recognized with awards by editors, institutions and parents alike. Their theatre productions are made possible by a combination of cast and crew members ranging in age from 7 to 16 and their museum is geared toward children six months to 10 years of age. The Children's Theatre was founded in 1923 and is the oldest continuously running children's theatre in the United States. In 1955 actors Bette Davis and Gary Merrill threw their support behind the Children's Theatre while Bette and her fourth husband lived nearby in Cape Elizabeth, Maine.

5. Fort Lauderdale Children's Theatre, Fort Lauderdale, Florida

The Fort Lauderdale Children's Theatre is celebrating their 64th season of bringing arts education to the children and families of South Florida. It was started by "two mothers in a garage," and has since grown to be a recognized cultural organization that offers courses year-round as well as performances, camps and outreach programs that touch as many as 35,000 people. Their mission is stated as "Teaching the art of life through the magic of theatre" and they do that with the help of alumni, donations, sponsors and volunteers.

6. Young Performers Theatre, San Francisco, California

A Children's Theatre performed by kids, for kids is the credo of the Young Performers Theatre (YPT) that was founded to inspire a love of the performing arts in children "at the youngest possible age." Their Theatre Arts Academy welcomes children as young as three years old to learn the fundamentals while older students can try out for the main productions. They also operate an outreach program that donates tickets for live theatre productions to children served by the San Francisco Bay area charities with the belief that "all children need exposure to live theatre."

7. Steppingstone Theatre for Youth Development, St. Paul. Minnesota

What's in a name? If you're the Steppingstone Theatre for Youth Development the name says it all. Their focus is "developing the whole child" in an environment that builds confidence and self-esteem while celebrating diversity. On the main stage they perform 200 times each year with cast members ages 8-18, while in the classroom and summer camps, they educate more than 1,200 children and their outreach programs benefit more than 10K students and educators each year.

8. Encore Stage & Studio, Arlington, Virginia

At the Encore Stage and Studio you can stage your own special productions like your birthday party or participate in unique events like Cinderella's Ball (complete with waltz lessons) or join in the zany fun of a Mad Hatter's Tea party where you can make a hat and meet the characters from Alice in Wonderland. Auditions for their children's theatre productions are open to students ages 9-18 and they even offer pre-audition workshops that cover what to expect and how to put your best foot forward.

9. Performance Club Studio Theater for Young Actors, Wrightsville Beach, North Carolina

The young actors behind the production of Jungle Book were recently honored with a nomination for the 2015 Wilmington Theater Awards in the Children's Theater Production category. It's not their first nomination or commendation as an outstanding venue for teaching the fundamentals of the performing arts. The Performance Club prides itself on their ability to "prepare performers for the stage and screen in a positive atmosphere" and they offer private coaches for both kids and adults. After school programs are tuition-based and meet in the park with performances at the Wrightsville Beach Amphitheater.

10. Dallas Children's Theater, Dallas, Texas

The mission of the Dallas Children's Theater is to "give rise to theater that is inspiring." To ensure their success they collaborate with acclaimed artists to produce theater for "multi-generational audiences" that "build bridges of understanding" and "promotes an early appreciation for the arts." In their Academy they cater to students in specific age groups to serve up seasonal performances while Dallas area professional artists help children develop an interest in drama in "hands-on classes where participation is encouraged."

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