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About SMTI

Established in 2020 (and then delayed for two pandemic years), Squalicum Musical Theatre Institute is three-week intensive summer program run by educators with expertise in the performing arts. Each summer we work with high school students in the Bellingham Public School District to produce a full-length musical, culminating in a weekend of community performances. We are a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization located in Northwest Washington State.

Our Mission

Squalicum Musical Theatre Institute provides summer educational opportunities by involving students and community members in musical theatre production. The performance program serves high school students across Bellingham School District, fostering interscholastic collaboration. The technical, stage, and artistic production crews comprise a mix of students, arts educators, and community members sharing their expertise and building partnerships across the greater Bellingham performing arts community. By bringing full-length musicals to live audiences, the Institute develops multidisciplinary story-telling skills to illuminate our common humanity.

"Super Trooper" from Mamma Mia, summer 2022, photo credit SMTI

Our Philosophy

Participating in musical theatre has so many advantages for teenagers! We structure our program so that young actors and crew members learn these core lessons:


The Value of Face-to-Face Interaction

Whether teens are on stage or in the production crew, bringing a musical to fruition depends on effective, in-person communication. Rehearsals require brainstorming, problem-solving, and respecting each other’s ideas. Performances require reading the audience and adjusting to their reactions. Live theatre provides the opportunity to exercise these muscles—important ones in this screen-dominant, post-isolation age. It’s a lot of fun when teens have to put down their phones and be present.

Mamma Mia bow shenanigans, summer 2022, photo credit Keston Ruby

"Dancing Queen" from Mamma Mia, summer 2022, photo credit Keston Ruby

Empathy for Diverse Human Experiences

Musical theatre helps teens deepen empathy for others by investing them in telling a character’s story. Some stories reflect familiar experiences and help teens reflect more deeply on their own lives and identities. Other stories open up new worlds by exposing them to characters’ diverse experiences that are less familiar. It’s moving to see young performers and crew members find the truth in the stories they’re telling.

Confidence and Poise

Teens develop such confidence when they make bold character choices, sing and dance with conviction, design a set, or coordinate a show from backstage. When things go wrong in musical theatre—and they do!—performers and crew members must maintain poise, think on their feet, and adjust seamlessly. These essential life skills foster persistence and resiliency. We love to watch young cast- and crew members improvise solutions without missing a beat.

"Slipping through My Fingers" from Mamma Mia, summer 2022, photo credit Keston Ruby

Bows dance from Mamma Mia, summer 2022, photo credit Keston Ruby

Teamwork to Serve a Larger Goal

Musical theatre is very much like a sport. Cast and crew know that every role is essential to the group’s collective goal, and they learn to focus on elevating everyone around them in service to it. When actors and crew work as a team, trust each other, and prioritize the story, the experience is magic. Anyone who’s been part of a musical knows the unique and indelible bond that such intense collaboration creates, and this experience is so valuable for teens. This might be the best part of musical theatre!

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