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Back in the theater: Black Box Youth Playhouse makes the most of COVID-19 with youth camps

By Staff | Jul 24, 2020

Black Box Arts Center announced its decision to reform into Black Box Youth Playhouse earlier this year. Courtesy photo

SHEPHERDSTOWN — For many Arts organizations, COVID-19 has put a stop to their events for the foreseeable future. Shepherdstown resident Laura Richards Bakin has refused to allow that to happen with her theater, the Black Box Youth Playhouse, located at 113 South Princess Street.

At the beginning of 2020, the theater changed its focus and name, from the Black Box Arts Center to the Black Box Youth Playhouse. According to Bakin, the decision was based on the overwhelming popularity of the theater’s youth programming.

“We’ve been talking about it for maybe a year,” Bakin, the playhouse’s director, said. “I started the nonprofit corporation in January, and then the board met that month and decided to dissolve the Black Box Arts Center and put the money into the new corporation.

“Over time, for the youth portion of our work, the stuff we have been doing with kids and for families has been growing quickly. At the same time, it’s a lot of work for us to fill the seats for the other work,” Bakin said, referring to the adult programming. “We then got to the point where we realized, why beat ourselves up? We thought we should just give in, and meet the niche we fill.

“I just came to believe that the place where we could make the most impact in the community was through children’s programming. I felt like we would be a more successful nonprofit with that mission,” Bakin said, mentioning several of her former youth theater members have gone professional. “We were seeing some great results from our children’s programming, and we wanted to see more of that.”

In the future, Bakin plans on developing a busy schedule for the theater, with a variety of year-round youth theater classes and performances, along with some general family-friendly performances. However, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the playhouse had to pause its plans soon after its establishment, closing its doors in March before reopening this month with a number of virtual and in-person camps.

To ensure the safety of its campers, the playhouse has lowered the camper limit for each in-person camp, to make social distancing possible, and has decided to only allow audience members to watch the end-of-camp performances virtually or via recordings. Other safety precautions include requiring all participants to wear face coverings indoors; spending more time outside when the weather permits; minimizing the number of instructors; keeping the same campers together in groups; cleaning doorknobs and other frequently-touched places throughout the day; providing and encouraging the use of hand sanitizer; limiting the number of costumes and props, and not allowing them to be shared; and providing a designated safe space for campers to remove their masks if they becomes overwhelming at any point during the day.

While many organizations might prefer to close down rather than operate inside these restrictions, Bakin and her fellow instructors believe the extra effort is worth it, to aid in the intellectual and emotional development of local youth.

“Through this they learn a lot, not only about theater, but also about humanity and about life and about working together,” Bakin said. “There are so many things you can learn from working in the Arts and exploring the creativity inside of you. Working with different people and different plays can also help them grow. And that’s why I do it.”

To learn more, visit www.blackboxyouth.org/.