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Top 18 Theater Programs for High School Students  

By Eric Eng

By Eric Eng

a male and female actor performing on a stage

Top 18 Theater Programs for High School Students

In the dynamic and ever-evolving world of performing arts, high school students with a genuine passion for theater face the thrilling yet daunting task of finding the right program to hone their craft. Top theater programs for high school students provide experiences that prepare young artists for a multifaceted career in the arts.

This article seeks to illuminate the path for these young aspirants by presenting a curated list of the top theater programs for high school students.

Top Theater Programs for High School Students (Theater Design and Arts)

1. University of Michigan MPulse Summer Performing Arts Institute (Theatre Design & Production Workshop)

  • Location: Ann Arbor, MI
  • Estimated Cost: Not specified
  • Eligibility: Rising high school seniors
  • Important Dates: Priority Application Deadline: February 1, 2024; Priority Admissions Notification: March 1, 2024; applications will remain open until the program is complete. Rolling application submissions will be reviewed every month.

The University of Michigan’s MPulse Summer Performing Arts Institute offers a Theatre Design & Production Workshop that stands as a pinnacle among top theater programs for high school students.

This two-week immersive workshop provides students with a unique opportunity to delve deep into the world of theater production, from the intricacies of set design to the nuances of lighting and sound engineering.

What makes this program particularly exceptional is its ability to blend theoretical knowledge with hands-on experience, allowing students to apply what they’ve learned practically. Participants work closely with industry professionals and University of Michigan faculty, gaining insights and skills that are pivotal for their future careers in theater design and production.

The workshop is designed to challenge and inspire students, fostering a creative environment where they can explore various aspects of theater production, collaborate with peers, and ultimately showcase their talents in a culminating project.

2. SCAD Rising Star

  • Location: Atlanta, GA; Savannah, GA
  • Estimated Cost: $6,334
  • Eligibility: High school students interested in art
  • Important Dates: Application deadline May 31, 2024.

SCAD Rising Star is distinguished as one of the top theater programs for high school students. It offers an unparalleled immersive experience that bridges the gap between secondary education and collegiate-level study in the arts.

Liberal Arts students talking while walking.

Hosted by the Savannah College of Art and Design (SCAD), one of the premier design and art institutions in the United States, this intensive five-week program allows students to earn college credit while exploring their artistic passions.

Participants choose from various disciplines, ensuring a customized experience that aligns with their interests and career aspirations. The program’s dual format, available both online and in-person across SCAD’s global campuses in Atlanta and Savannah, underscores its flexibility and commitment to accessibility.

This dynamic structure supports a curriculum designed to enhance students’ portfolios, a critical step for those pursuing further education or careers in the competitive field of theater and the arts.

Top Theater Programs for High School (and Elementary Students)

3. Idyllwild Arts Teens & Kids Summer Program

  • Location: Idyllwild, CA
  • Estimated Cost: Not specified
  • Eligibility: Ages 5 to 17
  • Important Dates: Summer 2024.

Nestled in the picturesque mountains of Southern California, the Idyllwild Arts Teens & Kids Summer Program shines brightly among the top theater programs for high school students. This idyllic setting is the perfect backdrop for a comprehensive two-week summer camp that immerses students aged 5 to 17 in the world of performing arts.

Group of students walking together in the campus.

High school theater artists can engage in specialized intensives such as The Summer Show: Musical Theater Intensive, Theater Intensive: The Play’s The Thing!, and Film: Acting for the Camera Intensive.

What sets Idyllwild Arts apart is its commitment to fostering creativity and expression in a nurturing environment. Students are encouraged to explore and refine their talents under the guidance of experienced professionals, ensuring a rich educational experience beyond traditional classroom learning.

This program enhances students’ artistic skills and builds confidence and collaboration, which are critical components for aspiring artists. The blend of natural beauty, expert instruction, and a passionate community of like-minded individuals makes Idyllwild Arts a standout destination for young artists seeking to elevate their theatrical craft.

4. Interlochen Arts Camp

  • Location: Interlochen, MI
  • Estimated Cost: Not specified
  • Eligibility: Students grades 3 to 12
  • Important Dates: One to six-week programs available in Summer 2024.

Interlochen Arts Camp is celebrated as one of the top theater programs for high school students. It offers an unparalleled summer experience that nurtures talent and fosters creativity in the scenic beauty of Interlochen, Michigan.

Catering to students from grades 3 to 12, Interlochen provides a wide array of theater programs, including musical theatre, acting, costume design, design and production, and repertory theatre. Each is designed to challenge and inspire students at every stage of their artistic journey.

Interlochen stands out because it is committed to excellence across a broad spectrum of the arts. It is facilitated by seasoned professionals and educators who guide students through an immersive curriculum.

This range of programs is tailored to help students refine their craft, develop new skills, and gain valuable performance experience. The camp’s impressive facilities and supportive community atmosphere make it an ideal setting for young artists to explore their passions and prepare for a future in the performing arts.

Top Theater Programs for High School Students (w/ housing)

5. Summer Drama Program at Yale

  • Location: New Haven, CT
  • Estimated Cost: $9,475 (plus meals and housing)
  • Eligibility: High school students interested in theater
  • Important Dates: Application deadline Mid-April.

The Summer Drama Program at Yale distinguishes itself as one of the most prestigious top theater programs for high school students, offering a deep dive into the world of theatrical arts under the auspices of one of the most revered institutions in the field.

With its rich tradition of excellence in drama and the performing arts, Yale University provides an environment where students are taught and immersed in a culture of innovation and excellence in theater.

Participants in the program can choose between options like the Conservatory for Actors and the Director’s Workshop, catering to a diverse range of theatrical interests and career aspirations. The program boasts small class sizes, ensuring personalized attention and mentorship from faculty leaders in their fields.

This hands-on, intensive training equips students with the skills and confidence required to perform and create at an advanced level, preparing them for the rigors of collegiate theater programs and beyond.

6. AMDA Summer Conservatory

  • Location: New York, NY and Los Angeles, CA
  • Estimated Cost: Not specified
  • Eligibility: High school students
  • Important Dates: Two-week boarding school program.

The AMDA Summer Conservatory has solidified its reputation as one of the top theater programs for high school students. It delivers an intensive conservatory-style experience in the heart of New York City, one of the world’s entertainment capitals.

This two-week boarding program is tailored for those aiming for the spotlight in musical theater, offering an immersive blend of coursework and one-on-one training that mirrors the professional and academic rigor expected at the college level.

AMDA distinguishes itself by fostering collaboration among some of the best high school performers, culminating in a comprehensive performance at the camp’s conclusion. Participants benefit from direct interaction with Broadway directors and performers, gaining vital performance skills and industry insights crucial for aspiring theater artists.

Furthermore, AMDA alumni can audition for advanced programs, effectively serving as a bridge to further educational opportunities within the AMDA college framework. This program is an exceptional choice for high school students passionate about musical theater, seeking both the challenge and the reward of professional-level training.

Top Theater Programs for High School Students (Drama, Piano, Musical Theater)

7. Summer Performing Arts With Juilliard

  • Location: Orlando, Florida
  • Estimated Cost: Not specified
  • Eligibility: Students ages 12-18
  • Important Dates: Session 1: June 30–July 13 | Drama, Piano, Voice; Session 2: July 14–July 27 | Dance, Musical Theater

Summer Performing Arts With Juilliard stands out as a distinguished entry among the top theater programs for high school students. It offers an enriching experience that blends rigorous training with the artistic excellence for which The Juilliard School is renowned worldwide.

This program invites students into an immersive environment where they can hone their acting, music, and dance skills under the guidance of Juilliard’s esteemed faculty and alumni. What makes this program particularly unique is its global reach, operating in various locations through partnerships with Nord Anglia Education schools.

This offers students a rare opportunity to engage in a cross-cultural exchange of artistic ideas and practices. Participants are not only trained in the technical aspects of their chosen discipline. Still, they are encouraged to develop a deeper understanding of the arts as a holistic form of expression and communication.

This emphasis on comprehensive artistic development ensures that students leave the program as better performers and well-rounded artists ready to contribute to the evolving world of theater and performance arts.

8. Southeastern Summer Theatre Institute

  • Location: Hilton Head Island, SC
  • Estimated Cost: Not specified
  • Eligibility: High school students (specific grades not mentioned)
  • Important Dates: Acceptance in late spring.

The Southeastern Summer Theatre Institute (SSTI) stands out among the top theater programs for high school students with its unique blend of professionalism and intensive learning.

Group of students walking in the campus.

Renowned for its all-encompassing approach to theater education, SSTI offers a four-week session where students are immersed in a large-scale musical production and benefit from a holistic training experience that includes rehearsals, photoshoots, television appearances, and social media projects.

What sets SSTI apart is its dedication to preparing students for the real world of theater, evidenced by its impressive 100% college theater acceptance rate over the past eight years. The institute prides itself on its 3:1 student-to-teacher ratio, allowing participants to receive personalized instruction from Broadway stars and highly acclaimed faculty.

This program is about careers, not just camps, providing a rigorous and supportive environment where young theater enthusiasts can flourish.

9. Boston University Summer Theatre Institute

  • Location: Boston, MA
  • Estimated Cost: Not specified
  • Eligibility: Rising high school juniors and seniors
  • Important Dates: BUSTI 2024:  June 30-July 27

The Boston University Summer Theatre Institute (BUSTI) ranks prominently among the top theater programs for high school students. It offers a comprehensive and immersive five-week experience that bridges the gap between high school theater and collegiate-level performing arts education.

Known for its rigorous curriculum, BUSTI engages students in various classes spanning performance and design, allowing them to explore and refine their acting, designing, writing, and directing talents.

This program is distinctive for its dual-track approach, accommodating students interested in either performance or design and fostering a collaborative environment where creativity flourishes.

Participants earn college credits while developing an original play with their ensemble, gaining invaluable insight into the theater-making process from concept to performance.

10. University of North Carolina School of the Arts Drama Summer Intensive

  • Location: Winston-Salem, NC
  • Estimated Cost: $3,793
  • Eligibility: Age 15 or rising high school sophomores and up
  • Important Dates: Registration deadline is on May 15. UNCSA Drama College Prep Conservatory is from June 23 to July 13, 2024.

The University of North Carolina School of the Arts Drama Summer Intensive stands out among the top theater programs for high school students seeking the discipline and creativity inherent in professional theater training.

This program uniquely opens its doors wide, requiring no prior theater experience, thus welcoming a diverse group of young artists passionate about honing their craft. Over three weeks, participants are submerged in a curriculum that meticulously balances acting, singing, and dancing, offering an enriching experience that mirrors the demands of the industry.

The intensive is divided into two main tracks—Acting and Musical Theatre—each designed to sharpen the students’ competitive edge for college theater programs. In the Acting track, students delve into monologue preparation, script analysis, and dance technique, whereas the Musical Theatre track focuses on singing lessons, ensemble work, and performance skills.

With a cap on enrolment to ensure quality instruction, this intensive nurtures students’ artistic talents and equips them with the necessary tools to excel in future auditions. Such a comprehensive approach to theater education underscores the program’s commitment to developing the next generation of theater professionals.

11. Ithaca College Summer Theatre Intensive

  • Location: Ithaca, NY
  • Estimated Cost: Not specified
  • Eligibility: Not specified
  • Important Dates: Three-week program in Summer 2024, specifics not provided​​.

The Ithaca College Summer Theatre Intensive stands out as a premier destination among the top theater programs for high school students serious about advancing their skills in the performing arts.

Female student about to perform on stage.

Hosted by Ithaca College, known for its vibrant arts community and rigorous academic environment, this three-week program offers students an exceptional opportunity to dive deep into the disciplines of Acting, Musical Theatre, and Playwriting and Dramaturgy—this program’s dual focus on skill enhancement and real-world preparation, including college audition and interview processes.

Participants earn 3 college credits through a curriculum that sharpens their acting, singing, and dancing abilities and provides a comprehensive glimpse into college life and theater studies at the collegiate level.

This immersive experience is designed to foster each student’s artistic and personal growth and prepare them for the next steps in their academic and professional journeys in the theater world.

12. La Jolla Playhouse Conservatory

  • Location: La Jolla, CA
  • Estimated Cost: Not specified
  • Eligibility: Students grades 10 to 12
  • Important Dates: Five-week program in Summer 2024.

The La Jolla Playhouse Conservatory secures its position among the top theater programs for high school students through its intensive five-week experience to nurture the next generation of theater professionals.

Specifically designed for students in grades 10 to 12, the program is a rigorous deep dive into the many facets of theater production and performance. Participants receive professional training across various disciplines, including acting, scene study, voice and speech, ensemble-devised performance, and movement.

What truly distinguishes the La Jolla Playhouse Conservatory is its commitment to connecting students with the practical aspects of theater. Attendees have the unique opportunity to attend master classes with Playhouse artists, witness world-premiere plays, and gain insights into the behind-the-scenes workings of professional theater through designer presentations and technical rehearsals.

This comprehensive approach ensures that students refine their craft and gain a realistic understanding of the theater world, positioning them well for careers in this competitive field.

13. Long Lake Camp for the Arts, Theater Camp

  • Location: Dobbs Ferry, NY
  • Estimated Cost: Not specified
  • Eligibility: Students ages 8-16
  • Important Dates: Summer 2024; specific dates not mentioned.

Long Lake Camp for the Arts stands out as a unique haven among the top theater programs for high school students. It offers a customized camp experience that caters to its participants’ interests and talents.

A girl performing on stage

Located in the picturesque Adirondacks, this camp provides an idyllic setting for students aged 8-16 to immerse themselves in the performing arts. What sets Long Lake apart is its non-competitive philosophy, ensuring that every camper, regardless of their experience level, is valued and considered for roles in productions.

This inclusive approach allows students to explore acting, musical theatre, dance, and music without the pressure of auditions, fostering a supportive environment that encourages growth and creativity.

With a diverse offering of classes and the freedom to tailor their schedule, campers can delve deeply into their chosen areas of interest, making Long Lake an ideal destination for young artists seeking to develop their skills and confidence in the theater arts.

14. Marymount Manhattan, Musical Theatre Program

  • Location: New York, NY
  • Estimated Cost: Not specified
  • Eligibility: Not specified
  • Important Dates: Two-week program in Summer 2024.

The Marymount Manhattan Musical Theatre Program secures its spot among the top theater programs for high school students through a meticulously crafted two-week initiative designed to propel aspiring artists toward achieving their Broadway dreams.

This program offers personalized coaching in a supportive community of students and theater professionals. Participants are meticulously trained in the nuances of musical theater, including how to analyze scripts and songs, make informed acting choices, and use music to propel the story forward.

The comprehensive curriculum encompasses college audition preparation, daily dance warm-ups, musical theater history, and music fundamentals. Panel discussions with alumni, current students and Broadway guest seminars offer invaluable insights into the industry.

Additionally, the program includes group viewings of Broadway shows and a final showing for friends and family, rounding out an immersive experience that not only hones artistic skills but also provides a realistic glimpse into the professional world of musical theater.

15. Neighborhood Playhouse, Six Week Summer Acting Intensive

  • Location: New York, NY
  • Estimated Cost: Not specified
  • Eligibility: All ages and varying levels of experience
  • Important Dates: Summer 2024.

The Neighborhood Playhouse Six Week Summer Acting Intensive carves out a unique position among the top theater programs for high school students by offering a deep dive into acting through the lens of the renowned Meisner Technique.

A performer awaiting the moment of entering the stage

This program is distinguished by its comprehensive approach. It welcomes students of all ages and levels of experience to explore the foundational aspects of acting, voice, and speech.

The intensive is modeled after the Playhouse’s full-time Two Year Certificate Professional Actor Training Conservatory, ensuring participants receive high-caliber instruction that mirrors professional standards.

The curriculum’s focus on the Meisner Technique fosters a profound understanding of “the reality of doing,” equipping students with the skills to deliver authentic performances grounded in genuine human emotion.

16. Northwestern University, National High School Institute

  • Location: Evanston, IL
  • Estimated Cost: Not specified
  • Eligibility: Not specified
  • Important Dates: 5-week Programs (June 30 – August 3, 2024), 2-week Musical Theatre Extension (August 3 – 17, 2024).

Northwestern University’s National High School Institute, affectionately known as “Cherubs,” has long been revered as one of the top theater programs for high school students. Set against the backdrop of Northwestern’s vibrant campus in Evanston, Illinois, this program offers an immersive, hands-on exploration into stage performance and production that stretches over five to seven weeks each summer.

The Institute is uniquely designed to challenge students with a rigorous combination of classes and rehearsals, fostering an environment that simulates the intensity and professionalism of collegiate-level theater training.

Working alongside professional theater practitioners nationwide, students are exposed to various performance styles and techniques. This comprehensive program culminates in entirely produced performances, giving students theoretical knowledge and practical experience in acting, stage management, and design-technical roles.

The Cherubs program is distinguished not only by its in-depth training but also by the collaborative and supportive community it builds, offering young theater enthusiasts a profound and transformative pre-college experience.

17. NYU, Tisch, Summer High School

  • Location: New York, NY
  • Estimated Cost: Not specified
  • Eligibility: High school sophomores and juniors
  • Important Dates: Four-week program; specific dates not mentioned.

NYU Tisch’s Summer High School is highly regarded as one of the top theater programs for high school students. It is designed to offer an immersive, comprehensive introduction to professional theater.

woman leader

This prestigious program attracts students from around the globe, offering them a unique opportunity to study acting, musical theater, and more under the guidance of esteemed faculty members and industry professionals.

Over four intense weeks, participants are enrolled in college-level courses that cover various topics, including performance arts, acting technique, and scene study. The curriculum is rigorous, blending academic classes with professional training, studio time, and production work, ensuring that students are busy from morning until evening, including weekends.

The program emphasizes developing technical skills and fosters collaboration and creativity, allowing students to work closely with their peers on various projects. This approach prepares young artists for the realities of theater arts careers, offering them a glimpse into the life of a Tisch student and the high-caliber training that NYU provides.

18. Stagedoor Manor

  • Location: Loch Sheldrake, NY
  • Estimated Cost: Not specified
  • Eligibility: Ages 10 to 18
  • Important Dates: Three sessions each summer, each spanning three weeks.

Stagedoor Manor is recognized as one of the top theater programs for high school students. It is known for its rich history of fostering talent that often progresses to prominent careers in film, television, and theater.

Nestled in Loch Sheldrake, New York, this renowned program offers three summer sessions, each three weeks long, providing an intensive, immersive experience for students aged ten to eighteen. Unlike any traditional summer camp, Stagedoor Manor focuses on producing a wide array of performances, including nine musicals, five plays, and a variety of one-act plays and cabaret performances each session.

The campus boasts numerous theater spaces, including the well-equipped Jack Romano Playhouse and the Carl and Elsie Samuelson Theater, allowing every student to perform. The program’s unique approach, emphasizing education and real-world performance experience, attracts young actors from around the globe.

Its alumni, including notable names like Natalie Portman, Robert Downey Jr., and many others, underscore the program’s reputation for excellence. By offering a comprehensive theatrical education in a supportive, creative environment, Stagedoor Manor not only hones the skills of young performers but also prepares them for future success in the arts.

What Makes Top Theater Programs for High School Students Stand Out?

What makes top theater programs for high school students stand out is a combination of highly specialized training, access to industry professionals, and a curriculum that mirrors the rigors and demands of the professional theater world.

These programs are distinguished by their commitment to excellence, providing students with a foundational understanding of theater arts and a deep dive into specific areas such as acting techniques, stage design, playwriting, and direction.

A standout feature is the opportunity for students to engage in live performances, offering them real-world experience in front of an audience. Furthermore, the faculty in these programs often include seasoned theater professionals who bring current industry insights into the classroom.

Access to state-of-the-art facilities, including theaters, workshops, and studios, ensures students can practice their craft in environments that simulate professional settings. The holistic approach, combining practical skills with critical theory and theater history, prepares students for performances and a deep appreciation and understanding of the art form.

How to Find the Best Theater Program for You?

Choosing the perfect theater program can be as dramatic and exciting as theater. Here’s how to ensure the stage is set for your success:

  1. Identify Your Interests: Begin by pinpointing what aspect of theater ignites your passion—acting, directing, playwriting, or the technical arts. Your specific interest will significantly narrow down the pool of programs best suited for you.
  2. Research Faculty and Alumni: Look for programs with faculty with academic prowess and real-world experience in theater. Alumni success can also indicate a program’s quality and the opportunities it might afford you.
  3. Seek Practical Experience: Opt for programs that offer ample hands-on experience through productions, workshops, and internships. Practical application of your skills is invaluable.
  4. Visit and Engage: Whenever possible, visit campuses, attend productions, and interact with current students and faculty. This firsthand experience can provide unique insights into the program’s environment and culture.
  5. Consider Compatibility and Cost: Ensure the program’s philosophy aligns with your artistic and educational goals. Also, financial aspects, including tuition fees and available scholarships, should be considered to ensure the program is within reach.

With these steps, you’re not just looking for a program but a stage where your talents can shine brightest.

How Can Participants Benefit from Attending Top Theater Programs for High School Students?

Attending top theater programs for high school students offers manifold benefits. Such programs provide rigorous training that sharpens technical skills and enhances artistic expression, preparing students for the competitive landscape of the arts industry.

They foster a professional network of peers, mentors, and alumni, opening doors to opportunities in college and beyond. Moreover, these programs instill discipline, collaboration, and a work ethic crucial for success in any field.

Exposure to diverse theatrical styles and philosophies broadens students’ horizons and deepens their understanding of theater as a dynamic and evolving art form.

What Are the Key Features of Top Theater Programs for High School Students?

Key features of top theater programs for high school students include a comprehensive curriculum that covers the breadth and depth of theater arts, experienced faculty who are active professionals in the industry, and state-of-the-art facilities that allow students to train in environments similar to professional settings.

a theater stage

Opportunities for real-world experience through productions, internships, and workshops with theater companies are also pivotal. A supportive and vibrant community that encourages creative risk-taking and personal growth is also essential.

These programs often offer guidance on college auditions and career planning, further aiding students’ professional development.

How Does Participation in Top Theater Programs for High School Students Impact College Admissions?

Participation in top theater programs for high school students can significantly impact college admissions by providing students with a competitive edge. Admissions committees often look for candidates who show a strong commitment to their field of interest.

Completing a prestigious theater program demonstrates both dedication and a high skill level. These programs also allow students to build a comprehensive portfolio or reel that showcases their talent and range, which can be a decisive factor in the admissions process.

The discipline, time management, and teamwork skills developed in these intense programs translate into highly valued qualities in higher education settings, further enhancing a student’s appeal to prospective colleges.

Participation signals a student’s passion and skill in theater and readiness to take on the challenges of a demanding college program, making them stand out in the competitive admissions landscape.

How Do Top Theater Programs for High School Students Prepare for a Career in the Arts?

These theater programs prepare students for a career in the arts by offering a realistic glimpse into the professional world of theater. Through hands-on learning experiences, students develop a work portfolio showcasing their skills and versatility.

The rigorous training hones their craft to meet the standards of top college programs and professional auditions. By navigating the collaborative process of theater production, students gain insights into the industry’s expectations and the importance of adaptability, perseverance, and innovation.

These programs equip students with technical skills and artistic insight and instill the confidence and resilience needed to pursue a career in the arts.

Conclusion

Finding the right program may be complex, but the rewards—artistic growth, lifelong connections, and the sheer joy of storytelling—are immeasurable.

Whether on the stage or behind the scenes, students equipped with the experience and education from these top programs are poised to make meaningful contributions to the arts and beyond.

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