Summer Youth Theatre Ensemble

Our Summer Youth Theatre Ensemble (SYTE) is a free 4-week summer theatre arts program open to high school youth. Each summer company creates, rehearses, and performs an original play on our mainstage.

Summer Youth Theatre Ensemble 2023

Summer Youth Theatre Ensemble 2023 presented performances of HERE/AFTER: a completely new play that our young ensemble devised, wrote and created just for you!

Friday, July 28 at 6:30 pm
Saturday, July 29 at 2:00 pm

In the Spencer Theatre, Olson Performing Arts Center (located on the UMKC campus)

Our musings on the Here. And the After. And the Here After. Some ponderings on the Here/After are funny, some are not. What is it like? Do we know when we are there? Is it the same for everyone? Will we be judged? Who works there? And what’s the deal with the clown?

Our ensemble of 15 teens has been exploring and learning theatre and storytelling skills, sharing countless ideas, improvising, devising, journaling, playwriting and bonding with lots of laughter into an imaginative and collaborative artistic team.

Thanks to everyone who came out and supported what we created in 18 days of discovery, and all who took a ride into the great beyond, a land of many strange, but recognizable, people and stories. Led this summer by teaching artists Ras Badejo, Sam Cordes and Emerson “Em” Reed, with poster design by Charlie Cirksena. SYTE is a free program. We are inspired by the wonderful days of in-depth theatre arts exploration the ensemble has shared with us.

About the Program

“SYTE was the most magical experience of my life. Not a day goes by that I don’t think about it.” – SYTE Ensemble member

While SYTE is a theatre-focused experience, we welcome high school-aged young adults of all skill levels, talents, and backgrounds. We don’t require tons of theatre experience – only ideas, openness, and enthusiasm to tell a story with each other. If you love to think, act, write, create, and express and would like to have a fun, creative, and imaginative summer, we’d love to meet you! Eligibility includes rising 9th graders and just-graduated seniors.

Inclusion, diversity, kindness, belonging, and respect are artistic superpowers in our ensemble. Empathy, imagination, and sharing are gifts of theatre.

SYTE’s mission is to empower KC teens in a safe and supportive studio through self-expression, confidence, collaboration, and the joy of creativity, with professional actors as our teaching and mentoring team. Every young person involved is vital in helping to shape the experience.

“Every summer, our youth company ignite our stage and remind us of the value and meaning of individuality, creativity and expressing oneself. Thinking, talking, sharing, moving, experimenting, discovering, writing, shaping it into a whole piece and just simply having fun along the way. What they do and share is what it’s all about.” – Melinda McCrary, Director of Education and Community Programming

For more information please contact Melinda at

Past Ensembles

Summer 2022

Roommates: A New Sitcom
Roommates: A New Sitcom premiered the final weekend of July on the Spencer Stage to over 170 patrons. Our stellar Summer Youth Theatre Ensemble – full of bright, compassionate and creative young actors – used improvisation, discussion, devising, playwriting, brainstorming and card storming as they ushered their eerie and energetic original play from ideas and discoveries to the page and then on to performance.

As stars of a new sitcom, the characters had a lot to learn when the apartment tv started glowing and they were transported into it for a wild journey through television genres and wacky challenge,s led by the enigmatic and maybe-evil Jessica van Dessica. Earning the path back to “set” included a very loud and fun gig as the rock band, Glowing Devil Pickles, and some honest revelations about friendship, emotional strength and trust. In four weeks, our ensemble explored and learned techniques of storytelling and acting and built together this joyful play , rich with imagination, humor and theatricality.

Summer 2021

Are you listening?
Twelve young people gather for their tenth high school reunion. As they reacquaint, sparks fly as memories of deep hurts they shared as a group when not listened to by parents and teachers as well as those they caused to each other are visited in flashback. New identities are unfurled. Old wounds and secrets are spoken aloud and hilarities are recalled as they join forces again to understand a time when it seemed no one was listening or even cared.

As each of the former classmates makes a reunion toast, we learn of their struggle, then and now, to be heard— as they navigate a complex world while coming of age. With the power of confidence and the perspective of time on their side, can they find the unity they were always seeking and wanted the world to hear?

Summer 2020


The cast of DISCONNECTED, drawn by Teaching Artist Khalif J. Gillett.
The cast of DISCONNECTED, drawn by Teaching Artist Khalif J. Gillett.

Trusting the arts to be healing, joyful and resilient, our 4th annual Summer Youth Theatre Ensemble assembled in a Zoom studio in late June 2020 with 13 talented young adults from all over the city. In league with our terrific and innovative teaching team and undaunted by the challenges of a pandemic summer, they collaborated to devise, rehearse and perform their original play, Disconnected, on video.

What happens when 13 strangers find themselves trapped in a Zoom room together? It’s meta within meta.

Summer 2019

At Home
A thoughtful original play, At Home examined family relationships.

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