We Are the City Spotlight on Handful Players
By Semhar Gebrat, Handful Players Program Manager and Musical Theater Teaching Artist
Founded in 2007, Handful Players has been committed to developing San Francisco youth and enriching lives through musical theater and the performing arts. With the active involvement of talented local artists, primarily individuals of color, we provide inclusive access to high-quality performing arts workshops and live performances. Our year-round performing arts programs in a variety of arts disciplines — including theater, dance, puppetry, spoken word, rap and clowning — build critical social and emotional learning skills and provide channels for creative self-expression. By encouraging a positive sense of self, celebrating cultural diversity, and developing each child’s individual talent and potential, we help youth discover a path forward to an enriched life.
When schools closed in the beginning of the pandemic in 2020, Handful Players immediately pivoted to online learning, creating 40 unique performing arts videos with 10 talented artists to engage and inspire kids and their families at home. Our video on how to make recycled finger puppets has over 33,000 views!
Also during those first few months of Shelter In Place, Handful Players Teaching Artists were able to create and film an original play, “Looking Back, Moving Forward.” This multimedia production incorporates live-action performance, animation, puppetry, hip-hop and archival imagery. The video follows the story of a young girl who travels through time to discover why it is important to be civically engaged today. We believe it is important to offer our students avenues to express their emotions while restoring their agency and hope in their daily lives and world.
By the summer of 2020, Handful Players was able to teach students directly. We worked with 219 kids and provided 143 hours of mostly live online and some in-person performing arts workshops in puppet making, theater, dance, and rap at 11 onsite and virtual summer camps sponsored by San Francisco YMCA, Booker T. Washington Community Service Center, The Freedom School at Third Baptist Church, Up on Top, Hamilton Recreation Center, and Boys & Girls Clubhouses in the Tenderloin, Mission, and Columbia Park.
Continuing our journey of creating remote performing arts opportunities for students, Handful Players participated in DCYF’s Community Hub Initiative throughout the 2020/21 School Year. With the support from DCYF, we partnered with five San Francisco Community Hubs in the Western Addition, Bayview, and the Tenderloin. We also conducted virtual residencies in theater, rap, and puppet making at Western Addition elementary schools. We enjoyed the opportunity to bring teachers from different artistic disciplines together virtually to collaborate and create 470 enriching and engaging virtual arts workshops for 500 students that incorporated much needed social-emotional support in such a difficult time.
After an unprecedented year of remote schooling, social distancing, and Handful Players’ own virtual enrichment programs, we were excited to welcome 465 San Francisco students to participate in-person and on-site in our 2021 summer workshops. Nine dedicated teaching artists conducted 46 weekly sessions, encompassing dance, storytelling, puppetry, hip-hop & spoken word. We taught at 10 different summer camps for a total of 419 workshop hours, reaching children at our community partners: Buchanan YMCA, Bayview YMCA, Hamilton Recreation Center, Salvation Army’s Kroc Center, Booker T. Washington Community Service Center, Up on Top, and Potrero Hill Neighborhood House.
We’re always amazed and impressed at the resilience of our students. They overcame so many obstacles presented by the pandemic with focus, compassion, creativity and courage. You can seem these multitalented students in our 2021 Summer Youth Showcase.
Finally, as the children transitioned from remote learning to in-person classrooms in the Fall of 2021, our 240 performing arts workshops in dance, theater, puppetry, and arts & crafts created essential opportunities for individual expression, social interaction and artistic growth for 310 students.
We are pleased to share some video highlights from this fall semester, including a behind-the-scenes glimpse at the everyday moments that mattered and some personal words from the children and teachers about their passion for the arts.
San Francisco has always been a place that has offered youth opportunities to explore a vast array of interests, talents, beliefs, and identities. The people of our community have always welcomed one another with open minds and hearts, and have been a reflection of the diversity and innovation that keeps the ever pounding heartbeat of San Francisco going. With endless inspiration from its natural beauty, expansive public parks, and wide selections of cultural and arts organizations, it will forever remain a place of pride for San Franciscans of all ages and walks of life. Handful Players uplifts and supports communities of San Francisco with deep heritage and roots that trace back decades, and hopes to inspire younger generations to become whatever they dream and envision for themselves.
What can our City do to help children, youth, and families thrive? Our City should continue to provide and expand upon the work of DCYF and the Human Rights Commission to make sure all families have adequate access to healthy food in a way that is sustainable, and can continue to support our communities through and after the pandemic. The City should also continue to offer summer programs with educational components to reduce learning loss, and offer incentives for college bound students. Offering free access to cultural and recreational events will encourage our youth to step outside of their homes and to learn through new experiences. Finally, providing paid internships for teens and young adults to gain valuable, professional work experience so that they may rise up and be prepared to transition independently into adulthood.