Teaching Kids the Power of Art and Community

By Kate Rae

Albertus Koett knows first-hand the magic of discovering the world of theatre. “I was an introverted kid,” he says. “And in Grade 6, the drama teacher pulled me aside one day as I was walking down the hall and said, ‘Hey, come join a play.’ I said ‘Okay!’ because I was non-confrontational. And it changed my life.”

Now the artistic director of Tree House Youth Theatre in Red Deer, Koett, who is also an AMA member, gets to see other kids making that same discovery. Tree House founder Richard O’Brien created the theatre in 1988 after noticing a gap in programs being offered to youth interested in theatre. Decades later, when Koett took over as artistic director, he saw an opportunity to fill another gap—there weren’t any other programs offering kids a chance to create a show from scratch.

Today, Tree House teaches its participants that there is much more to theatre than acting—every role required to put on a show is equally important, from lighting and costume design to stage managing and directing. “Participants sign up as an ensemble, and then together we determine where people go,” explains Koett. “It’s created, so everyone feels safe to try things that they may not have before.”

Ultimately, it’s not just teaching kids about the joy of theatre and community, but also what’s needed to build a career in this field. “Yes, there are opportunities on Broadway to get acting roles, tech roles and design roles. But those are really hard to get and there are a lot of people competing for that,” notes Koett. “Where artists typically will have success, especially early on, is by creating their own theatre. So, what we’re trying to do is teach them what an ensemble looks like… and the skills you need to put on a fringe show and create your own stuff.”

For families that may need a subsidy in order to participate, there are funds available. “That’s why our fundraising, sponsorship and donations are so important,” says Koett. “We never want finances to be a barrier to accessing theatre.” The best part of Koett’s job is seeing kids come out of their shells as he did. “I always tell them we’re not striving to make the greatest theatre on the planet. We want to create memories and have fun in the process.”