Youth Arts Ambassadors learn life skills in addition to theater skills

Krissy Brown works middle school and high school youth from the Springfield-area to help them learn and develop performing arts skills.

Brown works for the Springfield Arts Council as the associate creative director and leads the unique Youth Arts Ambassadors (YAA) program, which originated in 2015 under the guidance of SAC Executive Director Tim Rowe.

“It’s all about being yourself, feeling safe, and learning some life skills, while we create professional-quality art together,” Brown says.

The group started small with only five original members, but it has since grown, leading to the most recent audition for a YAA show attracting more than 100 youth to try out, she says.

YAA members learn about more than acting, singing, and dancing. They also can learn about stage tech and the production process as a whole.

Brown is a Cleveland native and alumna of Wittenberg University, where she earned a major in theater and minors in communications and music. During college, she enjoyed her time in Springfield and was encouraged to audition for the 2012 Summer Arts Festival production of Hairspray.

After graduation, Brown interned with the SAC before joining as a fulltime employee.

Brown wears many hats in her role, including director, choreographer, music director and project coordinator, and she was presented the opportunity to help jumpstart the YAA program because of her innate ability to connect with youth.

The YAA program leads with a bully-free and judgement-free mission that allows each student to exercise their abilities to their fullest extent. Brown says ideas for workshops and shows come directly for YAA members’ interests, which provides the youth the creative freedom to help lead the program itself.

For example, the group’s most recent performance was Newsies Jr., which kicked off the 2023 Summer Arts Festival. The show required a lot of dancing experience, so the SAC teamed up with choreographers to provide the cast workshops teaching tap, leaps and turns, Brown says. Check out the full schedule for the free 2023 Summer Arts Festival at Veterans Park here.

Other shows the YAA have performed include Frozen and The Lion King, both of which required puppeteer workshops for the performers to learn how to interact on stage with and as their characters, she says.

Though much of the work the YAA does is a mix of fun and professional, Brown says she has found that the program has also taken on an important role in many of the students’ lives. The experience, she says, allows youth to decompress and to find a sense of purpose and self expression.

The hard work and dedication of the YAA participants is showcased with their attendance at the annual Junior Theatre Festival in Atlanta, Georgia. So far, the group has earned four awards and three trophies, receiving some form of recognition each year.

Brown says that while the experience itself is valuable, the feedback the group receives along with its scores is just as valuable.

She says they has been told they are so engaging because they are, “such a close-knit group, which genuinely cares about each other. People always say that they can feel the dynamic from our kids, which is why they are such good performers.”

Future plans for the YAA include a dinner-theater experience that will be completely produced later this summer by the senior members of the program, Brown says.

The group also will be partnering with the Clark State Theater Arts Program for a production of The Crucible this fall, she says. The YAA continues to branch out and try new things, so the partnership will be a first for the program.

The YAA program is also fortunate to have “wildly talented” Springfield community members serve as the instructors and production team, Brown says. And, program alumni who have gone on to achieve great successes in the arts have often chosen to come back to help encourage today’s YAA.

Anyone with a middle or high school student interested in participating in the YAA – or any interested volunteers or donors – can apply at
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