Kaiser Permanente Educational Theatre Program & Oregon Children’s Theatre

Since the early 1980s, Kaiser Permanente, a national nonprofit health care provider, has used its Educational Theatre Program (ETP) to model positive behaviors and healthy decision making to improve the health of the communities it serves across the country.

The use of theatre to inspire and educate children and adolescents to lead healthier lifestyles is so ingrained in Kaiser Permanente’s culture that all of its regions run their own ETP.

One region in particular has seen dramatic increases in its program and has been able to get its key messages in-front of a receptive target audience over the years thanks in part to an 11 year partnership with a respected local theatre company, Oregon Children’s Theatre (OCT).

The Northwest region’s partnership with Oregon Children’s Theatre first began in 2004 after Nancy Stevens, the Northwest region’s Director of Community Benefit, was hired and inherited its dormant ETP. Determined to reinvigorate the program but lacking the theatre experience needed to run it, she sought out the help of Stan Foote, a former Northwest ETP actor, who was working as the artistic director of Oregon Children’s Theatre.  Stan, soon after, proposed that their organizations partner to get the program up and running.

Oregon Children’s Theatre would supply its artistic staff (actors, playwrights, etc.) to produce the shows and would use its existing relationships with schools to bring ETP’s plays to students throughout the Northwest. This partnership allowed the ETP to get its message across to its target audiences, produce original, relevant and high quality shows and to get into schools relatively quickly. Original productions created by OTC for the Northwest ETP were also performed by ETPs in other Kaiser Permanente regions.

Kaiser Permanente in return would provide OCT with the funding the company needed to hire full time actors as teaching artists as well as the funding to travel to schools that were unable to afford to send their students to theatrical productions. The partnership also provided the theatre with visibility and access to audiences that it might have otherwise lacked.

Both ETP Northwest and OCT’s programs have expanded in recent years. OCT visits approximately 175 schools each year and has reached a cumulative audience of more than 270,000 students and families with its health-focused productions since it began offering its ETP programming. OCT has also begun offering intensive artist-in- residence programs in which its actor-educators are embedded in classrooms, creating productions with students, and directing performances by students, for students.

For 30 years, theatre has proven its value in helping Kaiser Permanente promote healthy life styles in the communities the company serves. Kaiser Permanente has even come to view it’s ETP as a way of providing an additional benefit to its communities. OCT also gets the morale boost that comes from using its theatrical skills to promote the public good.

You can learn more about the partnership between Kaiser Permanente Northwest Region’s ETP and Oregon Children’s Theatre and other examples of successful arts and business partnerships by reading The pARTnership Movement’s essay series.