Junior Programs, Inc. began in the 1930s on the east coast and grew into a national movement to help children develop an appreciation for live theater. Following Tacoma and Seattle, Olympia was approached in 1940 to sponsor a Junior Programs organization. The schools and PTAs were receptive but financial backing was needed to guarantee the productions. Ten women’s organizations underwrote the plan for the 1940-41 school year.
The first year, Olympia Junior Programs presented three shows (a play, an opera and a ballet) at a single ticket price of 15 cents each. The Olympia High School auditorium was filled with a total of 1300 students for the productions. School buses transported the children to and from the performances, which were held at 3:00 p.m. on weekdays.
The second year, tickets were 55 cents for all three shows. During World War II, gas rationing and a lack of actors made continuing the tour impossible. OJP reluctantly discontinued performances until 1946 when one production was performed. In 1947, Olympia Junior Programs was officially incorporated as a non-profit organization.
Since then OJP has remained an all-volunteer organization with continuous yearly productions. Programs were presented at the Capitol Theater from 1952-1985, and in the Washington Center for the Performing Arts since 1986. Today four different productions are presented, usually twice daily for about one week — two shows for grades 1-3, and two for grades 3-6. Care is taken to select programs relevant to school curriculum, often based on literature, historical events, or famous people. OJP strives to present a wide variety of theatrical experiences (drama, comedy, music, mime, masks, dance and song) by professional performers in a state-of-the-art theater. Attending during school hours allows every student the opportunity to participate. Educational materials are provided to teachers and librarians to help prepare students.
Students from nearly 70 schools or homeschool groups in Thurston and nearby counties participate, bringing the annual attendance to approximately 25,000. Hundreds of volunteers are involved in OJP each year, including an executive board, school representatives, parent ushers, traffic directors and others.