On Wednesday, a show at the Maravel Arts Center had a little bit of everything, from Tegan and Sara to Malala Yousafzai to Maya Angelou.

The performers came together as part of Rosie’s Theater Kids (RTKids), a non-profit performing arts organization launched in 2003 by founder Rosie O’Donnell and Artistic and Executive Director Lori Klinger to serve students who wouldn’t otherwise encounter theater.  
Wednesday’s show centered around the theme “Rise,” leaving the 20 to 25 students to recite Angelou’s “Still I Rise,” sing “Everything is Awesome” by Tegan and Sara, “Change” by Tracy Chapman and “For What It’s Worth” by Buffalo Springfield. Twenty board members watched the young thespians in the two 20-minute performances.

Zi Ying Cao, 17, played a young social activist who wants more in life than selfies and social media. Her character then discovers the courageous young woman Malala Yousafzai and is inspired to start her own after-school extracurricular program focused on bringing education to all.

Cao has been with RTKids since fifth grade and spends five days a week with the program, where she both rehearses and receives SAT prep. On Saturdays, Cao is at RTKids from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. She said that RTKids has provided her with “a lot of confidence” and shown her that she can sing, dance and act -- things that she never knew she could do.  

“[Performing] feels really good, you know -- you get that feeling,” she said. “You’re a different person than you are and I feel like I could do anything and that’s a good feeling.” 

Cao was born in China and moved to New York when she was two years old. She currently resides in the Lower East Side and said her parents are very supportive.

There are about 1,900 students across of the RTKids Programs from all different backgrounds, according to their website. Fifty-one percent are Hispanic, 20 percent are Asian, 17 percent are Black and 12 percent are white. In the PS Broadway program (1,400 students), 86 percent are from low-income families and 16 percent are English Language Learners.

RTKids provides students not only with an opportunity to perform, but also with academic support and a place to go.

“They’ve offered me a place to be after school, a place to be occupied and actually be productive instead of just going home, you know, and being a regular kid,” Noelya Richardson-Simo, 15, said.

Richardson-Simo is a junior in high school and just started SAT prep at RTKids. She hopes to be a nutritionist one day.

Rosie’s holds a number of seasonal events and Director of Advancement Lindsay Miserandino said it is exciting to raise money for a cause she really cares about. Miserandino has worked for RTKids for 10 years.

“I love musical theater and I met Lori through a mutual friend,” she said. “I wanted to be involved somehow.”

Since its founding, RTKids has served over 60,000 students through their PS Broadway program -- a 15-week in-school program designed to introduce students to American musical theater.

Dauan Chappel-Miller, 16, is a senior in high school and also runs track and field. He hopes to continue both in college. He has been a part of Rosie’s for seven years -- since the PS Broadway program came to his school in fifth grade.

“I’ve always been outgoing but this has given me the ability to actually go out and do it,” he said. “Instead of just saying oh that is what I want to do, actually doing it.”