Cultural Quarterly Magazine Online
BCCP:Janet Erlick 4-2011

Janet ErlickJanet Erlick’s Labor of Love is All About the Kids
By Leon M. Rubin

Janet Erlick could easily have become a doctor in Philadelphia.

Fortunately, her theatrical roots and a bit of wanderlust were stronger influences.  They ultimately led her to Broward County, where two generations of kids have benefited from her boundless energy and indomitable spirit.

Erlick is the executive artistic director of Fort Lauderdale Children’s Theatre, where she oversees both the administrative and artistic aspects of the nearly 60-year-old organization. She has been in that position since 1999 and has worked at the theater since 1990. For the past two years, she’s been a member of the Broward Cultural Council by virtue of her role as chair of the Cultural Executives Committee for the Broward Cultural Division.

“Theater was always in my world,” Erlick says. “My parents met in the theater. My dad was an actor turned newspaper editor. Mom was behind the scenes. I grew up going, watching, acting and involved in the theater.”

She went to Swarthmore to study pre-med, but “took a left at organic chemistry and calculus,” she jokes. She became the first person to graduate from the Philadelphia-area college with a degree in its new theater program (with a double major in psychology). She taught and acted with a local theater company for a couple of years after college, “still thinking that I wouldn’t end up doing it forever.”

But Philly began to feel limiting, so she decided “to go somewhere where I didn’t know the roads or the radio stations.” That somewhere turned out to be Florida where, after a time, she learned that Fort Lauderdale Children’s Theatre was hiring part-time teachers. “It was a love connection all around,” Erlick says. She started out teaching, later became the education director and developed the organization’s highly successful outreach program that now serves more than 32,000 people each year.

It’s clearly a labor of love – and a role that she gladly plays. “I take the responsibility of introducing so many children to this art form for the first time very seriously,” Erlick says. “Sparking someone’s excitement, interest, passion and enjoyment − whether it’s onstage, behind the scenes or as an audience member – it’s tremendously gratifying to be part of that.”

Time and time again, those introductions lead to long-term relationships. “We have people growing up with us,” she points out, proudly. “They come at the age of four and stay with us through high school, intern with us. It’s amazing to be part of and to help foster those relationships through all of life’s ups and downs. It’s really special and unique.

“I love it when our kids go off and want to keep theater in their lives in some way,” she continues, “but it’s really about making creative, compassionate people who are being the best contributing human beings they can be.”

In addition, she notes, “the relationship between students and staff and family members over a long period of years creates something very special. It’s all about the kids. It becomes the community, the family. It’s becoming more difficult to find those kinds of things in other aspects of life, where you don’t know the names of the people next door. It’s a home away from home. That’s how we feel and how the kids feel.”

This human impact of the work carried out by Fort Lauderdale Children’s Theatre – and indeed, by all arts and cultural organizations – provides tremendous benefits to our community, but there’s more. “We’re not talking about just hanging a painting on the wall. The arts help our kids learn critical thinking and social skills that they’ll need no matter what they do,” Erlick observes