Indiana University of Pennsylvania’s Department of Theatre, Dance, and Performance will offer its summer youth theater program, Footlight Players, from June 19 to July 15 at IUP.

Footlight Players logoThe program explores creativity through workshops and creating plays and musicals, providing four weeks of day-long performing arts programming, primarily serving Indiana County.

To be eligible, players must have completed third grade; but it is open to all, regardless of prior theater experience.

The program begins with a day of auditions and assignments on June 19. Each Player gets their part and learns about the content of workshops in performance, creative play, and technical crafts. After four weeks of workshops and rehearsals, with cast and crew ready, public performances will be given July 14 and 15.

“Youth theater offers a myriad of opportunities for exploring creativity and learning,” said Brian Jones, IUP Department of Theatre, Dance, and Performance chair, who created Footlight Players in 2004 as an outreach project.

“While the metro regions are rich in summer programs for youth using theater and performing arts, Indiana County is more limited,” he said. “Footlight Players was created in 2004 to fill this gap in opportunity for rural students. The program continues to reduce disparity in arts programming by offering open access to youth in rural populations.”

The Footlight Players program is supported by professional teaching artists with experience onstage and backstage.

Sharen Camille is the program’s longtime teaching artist and artistic director. Camille spent her early career performing national and international tours of musical theater, including the role of Liesl in The Sound of Music.

“I appreciate how this camp is distinctive for its balance of high production values and mission to serve every level of preparation,” she said. “Players thrive from participating, developing ‘soft skills’ they don’t even realize, because for them, it’s all play,” she said.

“Players also gain greater confidence, and public speaking skills and empathy, collaboration, creative problem solving, and communication skills are heightened. Just moving a lot every day has benefits for mental health and focus,” she said.

“Each year we have several Players who say they learn more here than in school,” Jones said. “While I doubt that’s entirely true, there is something to be said for the persistence of learning by creating something new in a teamwork setting.”

Footlight Players youth theater company began with a handful of students and staff and has grown steadily each year. This is the nineteenth year for the program, which now serves more than 60 youth, interns, musicians, teaching artists, designers, and administrative and production staff and produces full-scale theatrical shows.

A core tenet of the program is inclusion, Jones said.

“We do not turn away any student who wishes to participate, regardless of experience, financial ability, special needs accommodations, or background; and in fact, Footlight supports youth who often experience discrimination within their own communities,” he said.

Footlight is a safe space for young people with varying identities, including youth of color, LGBTQIA, and neurodivergent learners, Jones stressed.

Part of its accessibility mission is a commitment to providing opportunities for Players who may not have the financial ability to meet the tuition costs.

Registration cost for the four-week program is $700 ($600 before May 8), but no Player is turned away because of financial challenges.

“We have never turned away any player for an inability to pay; if a potential player has challenging financial circumstances, they just need to let us know and we will work with them,” he said.

Jones can be contacted by phone at 724-357-2969; online registration is open for Footlight Players. Jones can also be reached by email at

The Footlight experience is supported in part by the Pennsylvania Council on the Arts, a state agency funded by the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania and the National Endowment for the Arts, a federal agency.