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Photo courtesy of Stevan Koye

“I always knew I wanted to be in this world,” says Education Manager Jessica Roberts, looking around the scenic campus of the nonprofit AT&T Performing Arts Center. Roberts fell in love with theatre at a young age when she saw Peter Pan on Broadway. “It was the first time that I thought ‘Well, I can do it better than that,’” Roberts explains with her infectious laugh.

After years as a scene-stealing actress in college and early dreams of directing, Roberts went behind the curtain to mount her first play. It was there she realized that producing performances required a host of skills that she hadn’t yet flexed. She immersed herself in a crash-course of marketing, finance, ticketing, public relations, operations and more in order to create the show that she wanted. Through the experience, she learned that the creative sector was much broader than she’d ever imagined, requiring savvy people who could work behind-the-scenes to support artistic works.

“I wish I had known that there were this many opportunities to thrive within the arts world when I was younger,” Roberts says. “I had no idea how many ways you can earn a living as a creative professional.”

Leading the Center’s umbrella education initiative Open Stages, Roberts has combined her keen administrative capabilities with her education background to develop unique programs that grow by the year. Her passion is helping students understand that there are a wide range of artistic professions they can pursue – especially here in Dallas.

Through a partnership with Booker T. Washington High School for the Performing and Visual Arts, Roberts helped created a groundbreaking arts administration club where the region’s arts leaders and top Center staff join to provide students with a deep-dive of running an arts organization.

“We give them the tools to pursue a profession in the arts – whether that’s through a nonprofit community organization, education institution, faith-based organization or as a working artist.” Students at Booker T. also have opportunities to perform at the Center as part of Sammons Lunch Jam, a new and highly successful program where young performers show off their skills on stage in the Center’s scenic Sammons Park.

But the partnerships extend across Dallas. Through Open Stages, teens at six Dallas ISD high schools have opportunities to learn through the arts, using the Center’s unique resources. Broadway Experience pairs students with professional performers and provides academic context to Center shows, which students can view free of charge thanks to donors who underwrite ticket costs. Backstage Spotlight takes students behind the curtain, where Center staff helps develop their technical skills so that they might pursue a career path on the operations side of theatre.

“When students see concepts on a piece of paper, they learn in a very different way than if we put a tool in their hand, or pair them up with an artist who is at the top of their game,” says Roberts. “We give them practical experience so they gain the confidence to know they have access to these opportunities to.”

Roberts says that as a teen, she made the decision to pursue the performing arts as a career. “I thought I was going to have to leave Dallas to achieve my goals,” she says. “Thanks to the education programs at the Center, hundreds of students are learning about the wealth of opportunity in North Texas and anywhere they decide to create it for themselves. I want them to know they can do what they love in a place that they love too.”

These programs rely on the generosity of North Texans who feel that the arts can be a vital learning tool, whether students go on to the theatre or the boardroom. Please consider helping us Raise the Curtain for students by contributing to our most important campaign of the year!

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