Upstart Crow Studio

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Upstart Crow Studios is a non-profit youth performing arts organization. Teaching and inspiring hundred’s of children, in music, vocal, dance and acting, who may not have had an opportunity to learn and perform without them.

Upstart Crow Studios was founded in 2000 by Eularee Smith and her daughter Sarah Beth Byrum. They started the company out of frustration for the children who did not test high enough on the TAG system (Talented and Gifted (TAG) Education serves the purpose of providing instruction that challenges high-end learners and meets each students learning needs.  Resources and support materials for districts, schools, teachers, parents, and students are included) in their schools.

“Every child is gifted and talented. No child is turned away at our school of theatrical arts.  If they audition, they get a part regardless of talent, challenges or financial need.  We fit the child to their particular strength. In typical auditions, you try out, all but one is eliminated for a particular part. Our goal is placement, not elimination. We may need to get a little creative if we have 10 Cinderella’s, but we manage.” Smith smiles at the thought.

“Our students know they may need to be the strength for the next person”

Behind the name: A jealous critic of Shakespeare called him “an upstart crow, made beautiful with our feathers, believes he can bombast out a verse as the best of you.”  Crows are seen as ordinary black birds. Well, that’s who our kids are; everyday kids, ordinary, until they step out on a stage and prove to the world and to themselves, there is more to them than meets the eye.

Upstart Crow performs approximately 6 “full scale Broadway shows” per year.  Show’s that are performed on Broadway, are performed on stage at The Crow.  Show’s such as Annie, Legally Blond, Sweeney Todd, Aladdin, and Peter Pan to name a few. All of the performers are children, ages ranging from 5 years up to the age of 18. Upstart Crow is unique in this way, Broadway show’s have adults playing adult rolls and children in their age group. In it’s first year, Upstart Crow started with 10 children and now have approximately 300 students per year.

Eularee Smith founder of Upstart Crow

Eularee took me on a tour of their facility and it is quite evident her feelings for these children.  She pointed out to me pictures of children that are now adults, who have either graduated or will be graduating high school this year.  She has literally watched them become young adults. Summer of 2013, Upstart Crow will begin their first adult theatre.  This was decided after graduating students voices were heard. They didn’t know what they would do without The Crow, as it has been a part of their lives for so long.

In their early years, they were nomads, moving from facility to facility, temporarily finding places that they could call home. Upstart Crow found it’s permanent home 6 years ago in the Whitaker neighborhood.

“We found a home where we were needed the most.”

Making improvements to the building over the years, they are getting closer to their goal. There are however a few very much needed improvements remaining on the list. They are in need of a new stage floor.  The one they have now is functional, but to have a safer floor for the performers is vitalThe entrance to the theatre needs to have wheelchair access. The theatre is accessible from the front door; however attendees must go through class rooms in order to get to the theatre, this may pose a problem when a class is being held during a show.  A panic door is on the list of improvements.  They have a contractor in the wings donating his time to relocate and install a new door once it is purchased.

Upstart Crow’s current monitoring system

Lastly, they are in need of a monitor system. They are pretty much blind back stage as to what is happening on stage, limiting performers on their cues to enter the stage, communication, you name it. Their current monitoring system is a small television set, and a small camera mounted in the theater, capturing only a small part of the stage.

They have learned how to manage by trial and error, but it is quite obvious how they would benefit from a new system back stage. As Smith put it,

“the show must go on, but it would be much nicer of course to have a monitoring system in place.”

Upstart Crow is funded by student tuition, private donations, and grants, however the grants are quite small as the organizations give more money to the larger companies. They also rent out their studio and theatre space, whether it is a one time rental or an on-going event.  All That Dance is one company that rents space from Upstart Crow. 

Scholarships are available (which many children are on) as well as a sliding fee scale for children or families who can’t afford the tuition. No child is turned away. As you walk through the studio, you will see signs posted, reminding people to turn the lights off when leaving a room to conserve energy and costs.

“it is hard keeping the lights on at times, but we manage” Smith states.

A few students wanted to share their experience with Upstart Crow:

“I only graduated last year and have been with the theatre for over six years.  There’s so much I could say about the Crow, they’re more than a theatre for me.  Upstart has been a community of support, a family, a home.

They’re the nicest people you will ever meet and they give you so much more than an opportunity; they give you a place you belongThe studio will literally do anything they can to help someone succeed, and I hope that everyone will take this chance to help them fulfill their dream too.” — Holly Flora

“Theatre at Upstart Crow is fun and rewarding. It helped me realize my passion for the stage.”        — Aidan Ziegler-Hansen

“I started at Upstart Crow when I was 7 years old and they have taught a lot about how to be a better actor, singer, dancer, and person.  They opened my eyes to the passion that I had for acting. They gave me the opportunity to be in my first play, Aladdin, as a second grader.  Over the past 8 years I’ve become a confident actor and person because of what I’ve learned from them.” — Conner Criswell

It is evident the impact Upstart Crow has made on the lives of these children.

Artwork done by artist from the Restorative Justice program – working to keep juvenile offenders out of jail.

You will see artwork on the wall’s, painted by an artist from the Restorative Justice Program.  There is so much talent out there that goes un-recognized, because these children don’t “fit in”, whether it is social, economical or grade point averages. Upstart Crow is changing that. 

“Every child’s voice is heard when they walk into the crow” Smith stated.

The next performance at The Crow is The Elves and The Shoemaker showing December1st – 2nd and 8th – 9th.

Upstart Crow needs our help.  They need to raise $6,500.00 in order to get that stage floor, the panic door and monitoring system for these children. They must reach their goal by November 22nd, otherwise no money changes hands.

Kick starter is a funding platform for creative projects. Launched in 2009, it is an all-or-nothing donation platform.  If the goal is met, or exceeds the goal, then all credit cards are charged and a check is issued to Upstart Crow.  Donations can be made at http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/890933933/the-crows-nest-project-feathering-the-nest.

For more information please feel free to email or call Eularee Smith at 541-688-8260. Visit their website at upstartcrowstudios.com 

Upstart Crow Studios is located at 855 W 1st. Avenue Eugene, Oregon.

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