History of Boston Children’s Theatre

Telling the Story

More than 60 years ago in 1951, Boston Children’s Theatre was founded as a stand-alone, non-profit organization, dedicated to presenting children’s theatre performed by children meeting professional standards — “Live Theatre for Children by Children.” BCT is one of the oldest children’s theatrical organizations in the country.

The history of Boston Children’s Theatre (BCT) goes back nearly 90 years to 1920 when the original charitable corporation, “Community Services of Boston Inc.” was formed for “the promotion of a better and more healthful community toward men in the military and naval service of the United States.” For these purposes, it conducted and supported clubs, canteens, recreation facilities and leisure time activities. In 1933, the corporate purposes changed to emphasize “the education of children and grown-up people in the most profitable use of their leisure time.”

The name was changed in 1940 to “Community Recreation Service of Boston, Inc.” (CRS). Throughout the 1940’s, CRS provided a range of cultural and recreational activities, mainly for children, including sports, picnics, and theatre, as well as crafts for senior citizens. As the corporation pared down activities in the face of rising costs and financial challenges, it was the children’s theatre that survived.

Complete dedication to children’s theatre led to its adoption as the children’s program of the Boston Tributary Theatre. The “Trib” as it was then known, sponsored a program for children involving instruction in acting and theatre techniques, as well as performances for children, using students from these classes and actors from its adult company. When the Trib dissolved in 1951, CRS resolved to continue to provide an opportunity for children in the Greater Boston area and became the producer of today’s Boston Children’s Theatre.

Adele Thane, the brilliant and respected former director of the Trib’s children’s theatre program, became the artistic director of this CRS undertaking, and the child-oriented mission manifested itself in a final name change in 1974 to “Boston Children’s Theatre, Inc.”

Since 1951, BCT has presented children-featured classic and contemporary productions to more than one million children through classes, workshops, summer programs and live performances. Students have an opportunity to progress through a variety of roles as they train at BCT. In addition, BCT students learn all phases of production and become responsible for running the show. George Roland (1928 – 2010), Executive and Artistic Director for 33 years, led BCT towards its status as one of the premiere children’s theatres in the country, and developed its reputation for artistic excellence.

Bringing her artistic gifts and years of experience as director, theatre educator, playwright, and entrepreneur to her tenure as Artistic Director of Boston Children’s Theatre, Mickey Coburn raised the level of production and the quality of educational programming to unprecedented levels from 1984 – 1989. Ms. Coburn received her training at Carnegie Tech, as well as The Neighborhood Playhouse and Marjorie Mazia Guthrie’s School of Dance (studying under Martha Graham company members). She also attended the Shakespeare Institute in Stratford-on-Avon, studying Shakespeare’s plays and other writers established in the full canon of Elizabethan playwriting. As founder and Artistic Director of her own company, The Acting Place, Inc., she operated both full and part-time schools and produced full seasons of plays and musicals from 1978 – 1983. Ms. Coburn wrote many of the plays produced by BCT during her time, including adaptations of Snow White, Sleeping Beauty, and Oliver Twist, all of which are now licensed and produced annually at theaters around the globe. Ms. Coburn elevated the production values of BCT’s professional productions, bringing in MFA degree candidate designers from Boston University to provide design, and introducing adult actors in key roles, thus providing mentorship and inspiration to the young artists acting alongside them. She extended the free ticket program by enlisting corporations to provide grants; and hired a Signer to interpret performances for youngsters from schools for the deaf. Class offerings for kids from grade school through high school also saw enormous growth, ranging from musical theatre to Shakespeare. Many of the youngsters who benefited from their time under Ms. Coburn’s direction and tutelage have gone on to achieve significant careers in the performing arts, further extending the legacy of work achieved by this innovative Artistic Director.

BCT has had only four artistic directors since its organization as an independent company in 1951. The fifth, Burgess Clark, took over as Executive Artistic Director on October 1, 2008. Of his appointment, Clark noted, “Within its rich history, BCT has always been evolving– and it will continue to evolve with the new leadership. BCT has been dedicated to truly challenging and enlightening students in expanding their skills and knowledge of the theatre craft. We want to build on the history of BCT and have established ‘Tell the Story’ as our theme for the year.”

Under Clark’s dynamic direction, BCT is offering many new programs including Boston Children’s Theatre Academy, a Pre-Professional Training Program. Program highlights include one-day Centerstage Discovery workshops based on various disciplines, a Centerstage Youth and Teen class series, Mini-Musicals, and a unique Master Class Series and Private Studio instruction.

Since 1951 and before, Boston Children’s Theatre has provided unique opportunities for inner city and suburban kids to work together and has offered year-round opportunities for young performers and audiences that are accessible, available, and affordable for all youths and families.