March 28, 2019

40 Under 40; Jennifer Dibella

Reading Time:   2 mins

Originally Published on Crain’s New York: https://www.crainsnewyork.com/awards/40-under-40-2019-jennifer-dibella

When Jennifer DiBella started working in the education department at Roundabout Theatre Company 14 years ago, she had one main goal: to give youth the same exposure to theater that she had growing up in New Jersey.

She leads the Roundabout Youth Ensemble, an afterschool program that allows a group of 60 high-schoolers—chosen from more than 100 applicants—to spend the year writing and producing their own play, culminating with four public performances on a Roundabout stage. Since its inception, the youth ensemble has served more than 800 mostly low-income kids, all of whom have gone on to graduate from high school.

“I want to help raise people up from underrepresented communities,” said DiBella, whose father, an engineer, lived in Mexico as a child. “The theater is a great place to do that.”

In 2013 DiBella took over Roundabout’s education department, the largest of its kind in New York and a leader nationwide. She has grown the department’s budget from $1.4 million when she started to more than $4.1 million in fiscal 2019, and has reached more than 230,000 people with an array of programs.

Her most-lauded initiative—a workforce training program with IATSE, the stage union—launched four years ago. Twenty high school graduates are chosen each year to spend three years in paid internships and training to work backstage.

“These opportunities are life-changing for our kids,” said Michael Fram, principal of Repertory Company High School for Theatre Arts, a public school in Manhattan. “Jen is giving these kids a clear path of what a career for them can be.”

By: Miriam Kreinin Souccar

Photo by: Buck Ennis