I am now retired as the Founding Artistic Director of Acme Theatre Company. From the moment that a group of high school students gathered with me in my classroom to talk about founding a theatre company, there has always been one important goal: to empower youth through doing theatre together. For more than thirty years, this unique organization has served thousands of young people, giving them confidence through performing all the necessary tasks to take a full-scale theatre production from conception to production. Moreover, the company has had a long commitment to producing works by important playwrights from the Greeks to Shakespeare to Oscar Wilde to Bertolt Brecht toArthur Miller to moder playwrights such as Mary Zimmerman, Arthur Giron, Moises Kaufman, Sarah Ruhl, and Stephen Deitz. Every task, from acting to set construction to costuming to publicity, to front of the house activities are performed by young people of high school age. The older, more experienced members mentor the younger members so that the institutional memory is passed down from year to year and from decade to decade. The only adults involved are the non-profit board of directors, the artistic director, and the director of the production. Occasionally adult mentors, many of them graduates of the company, will provide instruction in such things as set and costume construction, playwriting, fight and dance choreography and so forth. It is also important to note that Acme has a history of producing high quality theatre, comparable to that of adult community and professional theatre. This is an organization run both for and by young people, my idea of a perfect youth empowerment model. If you read by through the reviews of the young people themselves, you will find that there is another aspect that is very important. For many of them, Acme provided a place where they could meet and come to know people with like interests. Many of the alumni will tell you that their Acme experience was the most important formative experience of their high school career, and this from young people who attended one of the top-rated high schools in California. Finally, Acme alumni are making their mark in many fields, and only of few of those are fields related to theatre. We do have our theatrical success stories: a member of the Blue Man Group, an award-winning playwright and director, the founder of the San Francisco Sketch Fest, a television producer and former executive vice president at Disney Pictures, a professional fight choreographer in New York, and so forth. However, in other fields, there are equally successful Acme alumni, who give great credit to the self-confidence that their experience with the company built in them. Among these are a Legislative Director with the California State Legislature, a Vice-President of Energy Solutions, a sustainable energy consulting firm, The Special Projects Manager at American Museum of Natural History, a free-lance designer of Museum exhibits around the world, the co-founder of several health/medical companies, a published children's book author, and many doctors, teachers, lawyers, business people, and so forth. Add to that that many of our alumni are building happy families with young children, some of them now in Acme, and you have a youth-empowerment organization with history and longevity that continues to make a mark on our community and on the world. I am indeed proud to have been a part of Acme Theatre Company.
I love Acme so much. When I first joined Acme, I knew no one. When my first show was over, I didn't want to leave. Acme has changed my life for the better. I'm a lot more outgoing, far less shy, and I learned a lot while working with them. The people are amazing, the atmosphere is professional, and the experience is life-changing.
Acme Theater Company is a theater company run by and for teenagers and its motto is "serious theater for the fun of it." I have been in Acme for 3 years now and I have worked as an actor, lighting designer, and served on the Acme Council of Executives as member-at-large. Acme allows teenagers to assume positions of leadership with many responsibilities that teenagers are hardly ever trusted with. I have grown as a person due to my involvement in Acme and I have learned many valuable life skills such as time management, working in groups, leading a team, working with children during Acme's summer camp, and serving on a board. Acme is my home away from home, my family and the place that I most want to be.
I got involves with Acme this year in their production of Cyrano De Bergerac. It was my fist play with them and I was super nervous but they all immediately made me feel at home. They were all so welcoming and kind that I right away started feeling part of the family and made tons of new friends. We had rehearsal all the time but far from being tedious or getting in the way of other activities, it just seemed like the more time we put in, the more we wanted to. The plays at acme are done almost exclusively by the kids, that means all the costuming, publicity, sound, lights, set and props are all designed and executed by us. It created a space where we are all eager to do more because the more you put in the better it comes out. I don't think I have ever worked on anything harder in my life and the results couldn't have been more rewarding because it was ours. It really is a wonderful thing to work with so many people who absolutely love what they are doing.
I joined Acme Theatre Company in the summer of 2011 and have loved being a part of it. I've experienced nothing but joy from it since. Everyone is so welcoming and friendly and amazing to work with and the organization serves a great purpose. It teaches young people incredibly valuable life skills in the most fun and rewarding way possible.
I started acting in eighth grade when I was pulled to a drama club meeting by a friend. Being new to the world of theater, I had no idea how the whole thing worked, and I didn't know anything about theater. It was fun, I knew that much. I was in four shows in Jr. High (two were musicals) and figured it was just something fun I was going to do on the side of the rest of my life. However, one day in ninth grade, my mother mentioned how two of the girls I had been acting with at school had started working with Acme Theater Company, and she had thought that since I enjoyed theater, I should try out for their spring show. Now, while I happen to be one of the weirdest people around (which I enjoy being) and did like theater, I have always been kind of shy around new people, and I didn't have many friends. I also wasn't sure if theater was something I really LOVED. So, I told my mother I would think about it. I didn't audition for the show, but I did go and see it. It was As You Like It, and it was great. It looked like it had been so fun to do, and I was extremely sore with myself for not auditioning for a very long time. I learned that Acme would be doing the Three Musketeers during the summer, and I knew that there was no way I was going to miss out on that. I showed up to auditions, and it seemed everyone knew everyone else, or at least knew someone there. Except me. I was close to turning around when I saw some people I knew in the corner, and made a quick cross over there. They went around and talked to people, and I quietly followed, wondering what I had gotten myself into. But I met some really cool people that day, and ended up having loads of fun. Over the summer, the fun continued and I fell in love with Acme and acting. I started working with the company through the new season, working stage management, ushering and acting. I can't help but think sometimes what my life would have been like if I hadn't stepped out of my comfort zone. I'm no longer afraid of walking into a new situation where I don't know anyone, I have something to do after school and during the summer, and I've become friends with people I would have never met if I hadn't walked into the DHS vocal room that summer day. More importantly, I've found a passion for something that I never would have, and with that new doors were opened to things I never knew I loved. Acme has changed my life dramatically, and for the better. I know it will continue to change my life, and I want it to. If I could type how much I loved this company, and how much it has changed my life, it would go on forever. Acme is the best thing that could have happened to my life, the people are some of the best people I could ever know, and it's an experience I will never forget.
At the beginning of many Acme Meetings members of the council are invited to share an "Acme Moment". The definition of Acme is the point of utmost attainment so we share experiences linked to the production process that express utmost attainment either physically or emotionally. This sort of experience seems fitting for what your asking. Once when asked I shared a story that goes something like as follows. I was sitting on the edge of the stage before my post-show clean-up job needed to be completed and listening to the various alumni reminisce about their Acme experiences. The winter show this year was the same play, although a different adaptation and different script, as one that had been performed over the summer ten years ago. One of the more prominent Acme alums pointed at me during the discussion and said "I was you, ten years ago I was you!" This particular Alum had played the same character as I in his production ten years ago and once asked most of the adults that were still there put forth some recollection of that production whether it was the set design or the 50 white shirts that had needed to be sewn or of the intricate fight choreography all of them had a different story to share. As I was walking home I couldn't help thinking that I could live a very happy and full life, in fact I would feel rather unfulfilled if i did not, return to come see the company in years to come. So my Acme moment was in that moment when I promised myself that I would need to return to see as many of the future plays as I could, as well as to pass as much of my knowledge and experience on to the future generations as possible.
Acme Theatre Company has changed and bettered my life so much. I remember when I first joined I was so nervous for the audition. But Emily, the Artistic Director, made me feel calm and made me smile as soon as I walked in the door. And although I didn't get in the play, there was PLENTY of opportunities to get involved. I helped tech for it and I just couldn't get enough of it. Since then, Acme has become one of my passions and I feel that without it, I'd be lost in a world of blandness and nothing but school. Not only has Acme taught me many life lessons, but I can now call pretty much everyone in the company part of my family.
As an Acme member from the summer of 2001 through the summer of 2005, I cannot imagine a better recipient for grant funding than Acme Theatre Company. Acme is a passionate proponent for youth empowerment, for taking pride in one’s work, for individual and group responsibility, and for dynamic teamwork; and it works constantly to give its members the tools and the space necessary to find and use these qualities and skills. The company’s efforts allowed me to grow from a small, enthusiastic but clueless newbie, into a confident young woman capable of tackling innumerable problems and of taking on leadership roles without hesitation. For my experience, and for those of the Acme alumni that I have seen come before and after me, I highly recommend Acme Theatre Company for this grant.
Acme’s brand of empowerment stems from its model of operation, of which it is fiercely proud. This model keeps adults out of the process as much as possible, which means that company leaders aged 13 to 18 are almost entirely responsible for Acme’s elements of production, from the first design discussions through the last touch of paint. In the middle the youth leaders manage all of the personnel, budgeting, transportation, and execution necessary to make the production elements a reality.
The evidence of this model at work was one of the things that impressed me most when I joined the company. The sense of responsibility and control that emanated from the company leaders, no more than five years older myself, had me determined to do whatever it took to put myself at the heart of this amazing organization. And I wasn’t the only one. The number of youth who I have seen stumble into the company as unfocused teens overburdened by hurt or low self-esteem, but who stick around to become amazing, outspoken, talented leaders in their own right would knock your socks off. Acme Theatre Company is a true gift to the Davis community: a unique and shining example of what it looks like to support our young people in a way that is beneficial to the maximum degree.
One of the biggest factors that keeps the company members working through long nights and nearly all school vacations is the pride that Acme takes in its work. Acme strives to produce genuinely high-quality theatre, and has demonstrated acting, directing, and production design of a caliber to rival many professional theatres.
During my time in Acme, my fellow company members and I would go to incredible lengths, both in order to avoid failure and to produce progressively more impressive outcomes. We felt that we owed it to the company to produce the kind of work that reflected its wonderfulness. This motivation inspired us to spend our high school lunch periods writing press releases, our weekends sewing dozens of period shirts, and our evenings designing sets or lighting plots, in addition to completing our homework and work for our other extra curricular activities. My cohorts and I would work tirelessly in order to be ready for opening night, because the show would always go up, but it was up to us to make sure that it was the kind of show that we could proudly call one of Acme’s.
Intrinsically tied to Acme’s pride in its work is a heavy emphasis on both personal and group responsibility. One of the most noticeable outcomes of removing adults from much of Acme’s theatrical process is that there comes a moment with every new group of Acme leaders when they realize that they’re the only people in a room brimming with a belief in explosive potential, and they commit to making those expectations into fantastic realities. Through this explosive energy I learned to build sets, sew costumes, hang and focus lights, perform on stage with confidence, organize fund raisers, lead groups of people, run meetings, and budget my time, among other skills. I learned to do all of these things because I had to, and I got good at them because I wanted to serve my peers and my company well.
Acme provides the motivation, training, and space necessary to allow its participants to take on responsibility for a variety of projects within a context that is real. It does this by placing a premium on youth empowerment above all, but also on striving for a high-quality product, and on emphasizing teamwork within the context of mutual responsibility. Acme is a true gift, even before taking into account that membership is absolutely free, and its only barrier to entry is a willingness to work. I emphatically suggest that our community honor this gift by supporting Acme Theatre Company with funding, and with production attendance.
Thank you for your time,
Acme Alumna 2005
I had just moved to Davis and was at a completely new school. I had no friends, except for girls I knew in choir, and spent all of my spare time studying or working with animals on campus. One day, I saw an audition info sheet in the choir room for something called Acme Theater company. It was the last day of auditions for their winter show, Cyrano de Bergerac. I called the number and got an audition later that day. That was probably the best decision I have made in my life so far. Instantly, I was adopted into a family of wonderful people all working to better the community with the power of theater. Rehearsals after school and on weekends were a joy to go to, every minute spent on the production was fulfilling and worth every drop of sweat, love, and blood that went into it. Acme pulled me out of depression and gave me a sense of purpose, not to mention friends and happiness. I hope to be in future productions, but even if I can't, I will always have the friends and experiences they gave me from that one time. Please consider Acme for your donation so they can continue to help other kids in the way they helped me.
Acme Theatre Company is more than a nonprofit organization. I made more friends in my one year with this company that my 3 years of high school, both in the company and in the community we served. Acme has helped me develop myself as a person, but also helped me become a part of my community.
I am 16 years old and have been a member of Acme for 4 years. During that time I have learned far more about leadership, stress control, responsibilty, and family than I could ever have learned anywhere else. I am the Master Costumer and with this post comes duties such as designing costumes, teaching teens to sew, keeping track of all the costumes as well as fixing any of those repairs that just pop up. The skills I've learned in Acme have definitely affected my success as a leader everywhere else and I could not possibly have wished for a better company to teach me.
The nonprofit group known as Acme Theatre Company has, for 29 years, dedicated itself to bringing high quality, fun, affordable theatre to the community of Davis, Ca, in a manner that enables teenagers age 13 through 18 to take charge and become leaders both on and off the stage. The finances of Acme Theatre Company are controlled by an organization known colloquially as "The Invisible Council of Elders," or ICE. ICE does not control anything relating to the artistic direction of any of the theatrical performances, but rather, simply makes sure that Acme follows all rules and regulations such as obtaining release forms and maintaining high standards of safety at all times. The majority of the company never actually interacts with ICE (I never have), hence the "invisible" nature of the group. The more important governing group within Acme Theatre Company is the "Acme Council of Executives," or ACE, a legislative body comprised entirely of students. The members of ACE are democratically elected once a year by the general population of Acme Theatre Company, and the services they provide to the company are invaluable in making artistic conception a theatrical reality: the Production Manager handles publicity; the Stage Manager takes charge of corralling the actors and maintaining backstage safety; the Master Carpenter teaches fellow students how to operate drills, saws, and other set-building equipment in a safe and secure manner to ensure that massive sets come to life without causing any injuries in the process; the Costumer turns strips of fabric and old stuff found in thrift stores into works of art upon the actors' body; the Master Electrician programs light boards, focuses lights and finds public domain sound effects when necessary; the Properties Master manages the vast array of props at the company's disposal and makes sure none of the dangerous props (such as sabers and starter pistols) wind up causing harm to any of the actors; the Education Program Coordinator organizes the company's annual field trip to the Ashland Shakespeare Festival and runs the company's Summer Kids' Program (more on that later); and the Webmaster ensures everyone is free from harassment and foul language on the company's heavily trafficked message board. ACE also includes two Members-At-Large, whom are often considering running for one of the other positions with more responsibility and first want to experience what being an ACE member is like. In charge of this whole show is the Artistic Director of the company, an adult appointed by ICE to choose, conceptualize, cast and direct the three full-length productions that Acme puts on every season. For 28 years, Dave Burmester, who founded the company in 1980, was the artistic director of Acme Theatre Company. He just recently stepped down to retire and Emily Henderson, an Acme alumna and Wellesley graduate, took over as Artistic Director. Directing all three plays for the first time this past season, Emily chose Macbeth for the Winter Show, The Beaux' Strategem by George Farquhar (Adapted by Thornton Wilder and Ken Ludwig) for the Spring Show (which is free) and Too Much Light Makes the Baby Go Blind: 30 Plays in 60 Minutes (hereafter referred to as TML) for the Summer Show. The latter production was originated by the Neo-Futurists of Chicago, but Emily chose to allow the entire cast the opportunity to generate its own two-minute plays in celebration of TML being Acme's 100th show. Thus, TML contained entirely original material developed by students age 13 through 18; the company generated a total of 80 plays and split them in rotation amongst two unique casts. Perhaps the most valuable service Acme Theatre Company provides for the community is the Summer Kids' Program, the one and only aspect of the company which is also run through the City of Davis (although some feel that since the company is independent of City finances in all other areas, the Kids' Program should also be under Acme's full dominion since Acme members [colloquially called Acme-ites] actually do all the work in the Kids' Program with nothing more than legal ties to the City). I wrote three plays for the Kids' Program, one of which I directed, and have helped out with the shows every summer in which I have been a member of the company. Working with the elementary and junior high school-age children is a wonderful learning experience not only for the kids, but for the high school students who work with them as well. One summer, three plays were set to be performed (one of which I wrote), but not enough kids signed up for the program, so I was allowed to direct full-fledged Acme-ites in my play, which rehearsed alongside the kids. This experience was very encouraging to the children in the Kids' Program who hoped to perform in full productions of Acme shows once they were older as they could see the "big kids" going through the same process they were. I wrote one of my two college essays about this experience, and it got me into UC Berkeley, which I currently attend. For more information about Acme Theatre Company and the Summer Kids' Program, please read this article, of which the following is an excerpt: http://www.davislifemagazine.com/Content.aspx?m=5/1/2008&cId=1214 "One of Acme’s enduring legacies to the city of Davis is its summer program which began 25 years ago. This is a theater program that introduces kids to theater, starting with opportunities for children in kindergarten and first grade with the Drama Potpourri program. This is an introduction to some of the elements of drama – getting kids used to expressing themselves through pantomime and wearing costumes. The Introduction to Drama course is for students entering the third and fourth grades, and focuses more intensely on the elements of stagecraft and performing. The course ends with an evening of short plays, which the class presents. Drama Production is for children entering fifth through eighth grades, and focuses on elements of acting, as well as the more technical aspects of a theater production. This course culminates in one-act plays, entirely coordinated by the members of the Acme Theatre Company. While on the surface, this sounds like a fairly standard drama program, keep in mind it is run entirely by the members of the Acme Theatre Company – these are teenagers, taking the skills they’ve learned and teaching them to younger kids. Many of the children in the programs go on to become members of the Acme Company." While I listed myself as "Volunteer" under the section that asks for my role in the company, I just as easily could have listed myself as a "Client Served." Being a volunteer for the company actually provided a service not only to the community, but to myself as well. For instance, when I helped to rebuild the stage at the local Davis Art Center (the decrepit stage upon which Acme had traditionally performed its Spring Show), I both contributed to the company and improved the community in which I lived. Of all nonprofit organizations, Acme is the most highly sophisticated (most especially considering how little resources we have) and most valuable for mental, emotional and physical health of the average American teenager. I only wish that Acme were in more locations than just Davis, Ca. Perhaps someday it shall be. -Alex Kravitz Visit Acme's website for information about the our 30th Season (09-10), in which we will perform Eurydice, As You Like It, and The Three Musketeers: http://www.acmetheatre.net/