Theatre can give at-risk teenagers a reason to believe in themselves and stay in school, says Javier San Juan, the president and chief executive officer of L'Oréal Canada.
Project Talent, now in its third year, is an attempt to do just that. Offered at a culturally diverse Montreal school, École La Voie, it gives up to 40 students a chance to put on their own play – from the acting, singing and dancing to the design of the set, and the use of light and sound. The students decide what play to perform. In the first year, they wrote their own, and focused it on issues in their own lives, including leaving school early.
"They know there is no censorship," says Mr. San Juan, whose company sponsors the project. "They own the play."
The program succeeds in part by helping young people with academic difficulties become more engaged with their school. And it gives struggling students a chance to express themselves in a positive way. "To be on the stage is cool for them," says Mr. San Juan. "Most of their friends would not dare to do it – it's risk-taking. Theatre has this quality of being an engaging activity."
Montreal's theatre community helps support the program. Théâtre Espace GO, an experimental theatre, sends actors, directors, producers, technicians and writers into the school to talk to the students about their jobs. "It inspires the students," says Marie-Josée Lamothe, L'Oréal Canada's vice-president, chief marketing and corporate communications officer. The students are also given the opportunity to attend a play at Théâtre Espace GO, and afterward they are taken backstage to see how the lighting and other preparations are done.
"The Fondation Tel-Jeunes, a Quebec counselling service, provides customized workshops for the students on issues such as parent-child relations, sponsored by L'Oréal Canada," says Ms Lamothe.
In the first year, out of 25 students, 12 were said to be at high risk, Mr. San Juan recalls. "At the end of the year, none of them dropped out. That is the success of the program."