With the Santa Fe theater boom has finally come a renaissance in young folks' activities. There have always been activities for kids wanting to get onstage, but three new opportunities are perfect for getting kids into a new hobby, out of the house and hanging with friends in a positive environment.

Upstart Crows of Santa Fe

Upstart Crows has been around for four or five years now, but with the acquisition of The Swan (the former Adobe Rose Theatre) by the International Shakespeare Center, UCSF now has a brick-and-mortar home for students crafting classical theater, including Shakespeare and Oscar Wilde. This summer sees a fun new addition: And Now For Something Completely Different, a mashup of Shakespearian scenes and skits from Monty Python.

When it comes to kids and classical theater, there might be a "type" that want to get involved with Shakespeare (perhaps kids who love history and reading would be most inclined), but really anyone can become enamored. "I think what excites them is the language," director Caryl Farkas says of UCSF actors. "There is a lot of excitement about having ownership of that language, because it's so rich, and there's so much passion and life in it."

This love of language makes for more ougoing young people. "We began having kids sign up who previously had been terrified to even speak in class," Farkas continues. "Our actress who played Hamlet two summers ago … had been, in her own words, 'painfully shy.' … [On our website,] you find accounts from a bunch of kids about why they like this—and most of them had no theater background at all."

Further, Farkas says, beyond word nerds (and we don't mean that in the pejorative) and shy kids, "We've had a couple of kids with autism who didn't really function in other environments, and something about this community made them feel comfortable and capable."

Students ages 10-18 who want to try their hands at Monty Python and Shakespeare this summer (tuition $295) have only a few days to sign up; rehearsals start June 3. Get all the information you may need at upstartcrowsofsantafe.org.

Santa Fe Improv

The bigger, flashier, famouser improv troupes that get all the attention (think the Upright Citizens Brigade or Second City) are known for being hilarious, presenting shows that get audiences rolling in the aisles. But Santa Fe Improv Managing Director Kita Mehaffy is quick to remind folks that the origin of improv education is not humor—it's simply truth.

"Actually, we discourage trying to be funny," Mehaffy says. "We talk about truth-telling all the time. … Through the story-building process, as we move from person to person, we encourage people to say what spontaneously comes to their mind at that moment; don't second-guess themselves don't edit themselves." Of course, what then comes out is often hilarious, but that is never the end goal. Sometimes improv can be touching and poignant; it's just a matter of what is true that day.

Further, "[improv] is for kids who are shy," Mehaffy says definitively. "Who have self-confidence issues in social settings. … I mean, I don't want to say it's not for the theater kids. But it has been shown to be really helpful for kids who have issues with social anxiety."

The teachers of these brand-new teen courses are kind and encouraging, and Mehaffy says the classes end up as safe spaces where kids and teachers alike can laugh and learn—and fail. "You don't have to be funny, you don't have to have acted, you don't have to have any experience in any of this," she says. "You simply have to be willing to open your mouth spontaneously and see what comes out."

Santa Fe Improv's one-week-each teen classes include an improv class for all teens (13-16 years old) and a sketch-writing class (15-18 years old) starting mid-June, and improv for girls (13-16 years old) in July. Tuition runs $220-$300. Head to santafeimprov.com for all the info.

Young Playwrights Project

An initiative from the Santa Fe Playhouse, brand-new for 2019, sees theater professionals Quinn Fontaine and Marguerite Louise Scott shepherding young folks through improvisation, acting basics and playwriting workshops, set to culminate in public performances in August. The response from local kids has been overwhelmingly positive, Scott tells SFR—and the best part? It's all free.

Ariana Roybal, 14, who does YPP with her brother Jonathan, 10, says she was drawn to YPP by an unlikely source. "I found an interest in acting because I've watched TV shows, and I've been thinking that the actors in the TV shows make it look fun." (She thought Andi Mack on the Disney Channel looked particularly exciting to make.) She's now particularly enamored of YPP, and of the supportive environment that Scott and Fontaine have created. "When I walk in the door, Marguerite and Quinn have big, open smiles and say, 'Hey! There she is!'" Ariana says happily. After a welcome like that, she says that after group sharing and improv practice with Fontaine, the group then gets down to writing with Scott. Ariana says she eventually wants to see one of her full-length plays produced at the Playhouse.

Her father, Jonathan Roybal, is an eager unofficial spokesman for the program. He says of his son, "Jonathan's always been naturally shy and kind of timid and soft-spoken; around strangers, at least." This was surprising to hear, though, because the 10-year-old was nothing but charming and gregarious when I met him at a recent fundraiser, and he won over audiences with a Teddy Roosevelt speech at the Playhouse's 100-year birthday party at the St. Francis Auditorium last month.

The elder Roybal continues, "The way he has come out of his shell, so to speak, has been a pleasant surprise and definitely one of the many positive effects of YPP. Another is the fact that our kids have developed a passion for writing that's akin to their peers' obsession with Fortnight. It's actually becoming a nightly occurrence where I have to ask Ariana several times to quit writing in her notebook and go to bed."

I'd be remiss not to mention that, since YPP is free and supported by donations, it's incumbent upon the community to show how much we love the idea. Feel free to open the wallet if you have philanthropical inclinations.

Kids aged 8 to 14 are invited to drop in to weekly sessions at the Santa Fe Public Library, either at the La Farge branch on Wednesdays or the Southside branch on Mondays, from June 10-July 29. Get info at santafeplayhouse.org/education, or email ypp@santafeplayhouse.org.