In 1992, Lani Brockman gave up acting and started Studio East, a nonprofit theater program in Kirkland with the goal of providing young adults with immersive theater classes.
In the last 27 years, Studio East has grown to expand their programs to a wide-range of ages, including an adult professional touring troupe called StoryBook Theater that performs for kids. Brockman said the performing arts can make a positive impact on people’s lives.
Even though Kirkland has lots of wealth, Brockman said, there are also plenty of people who can’t afford to pay for the cost of most theater programs. To help introduce more kids to the performing arts, Studio East gives out about $20,000 worth of scholarships every year to help families pay for tuition. Brockman said theater should be accessible to anyone who wants it.
They also provide reduced-cost tickets for StoryBook Theater productions and work-study opportunities for teenagers.
“We try to find as many ways as possible to make this place affordable for everybody,” Brockman said.
Brockman said the performing arts can provide kids and young adults with valuable skills that can apply to life outside of performing. The kids learn about resilience, communication, working with others and how to deal with rejection.
While some students at Studio East have continued in the performing arts, most apply the skills they learn to other facets of their lives.
“I’ve got kids on Broadway, and I’ve got kids that are working professionally in this field. But that’s a super small percentage, and it’s not what we do,” Brockman said. “We’re trying to help kids become the best that they can be, by adding on to every other thing that they’re learning in their academics and extracurricular activities.”
Brockman said the performing arts aren’t as accessible to kids as other extracurricular activities because they are the victims of budget cuts in schools.
“I think it’s often one of the first things to get eliminated because the values aren’t as obvious as the academics and sports,” Brockman said. “It’s the way the world is, but the arts are everywhere. I think the arts are vital.”
When the studio first opened, Brockman said they were focused on making ends meet, but as they’ve grown they are working to increase their visibility.
“As I’ve gotten to know Kirkland and they’ve seen the steadiness of the studio, I’m starting to reach out more and getting to know more people,” Brockman said. “The support has always been great from the community, parents, grants, foundations and such.”
Studio East now serves more than 70,000 people each year through their performances and classes. The first class they offered was a six-week summer program for teens who wanted to take college-level performance classes, called Young Actors Professional Intensive, a program that is still going on. They now offer year-round classes, homeschool classes and more than 40 camps during the summer for ages 4 to 19. Brockman said they rent their location for the studio, but since they’ve grown so much, she hopes to find a permanent location. By not having to pay rent, Brockman said they could reduce the cost of their programs even more.
“It’s a great place and it’s a safe place,” Brockman said. “A lot of kids find their village here, they find their tribe. And it’s very non judgmental. It’s welcoming to everyone. And we like who we are.”
Studio East puts on multiple productions each year, including their Christmas performance, “Twas the Night”, which runs on Saturdays and Sundays from Nov. 30, until Dec. 22. The holiday-themed musical, written by Brockman, features performers of every age, from kids as young as 4, to adults.
“It’s a great family show that is sweet, but also Carol Burnett funny, if I may say so myself, because I wrote it,” Brockman said. “It’s all about family. It’s a very fun, sweet show with a lot of guffaws.”