The driving force behind the Columbia Center for Theatrical Arts (CCTA) is artistic director and founder, Toby Orenstein. Early on, a teaching experience in Harlem had a major impact on Toby’s life.

One of twelve teachers selected to work with the “All Day Neighborhood School Project”, Toby helped Eleanor Roosevelt realize her dream—to motivate and stimulate disaffected, underprivileged inner-city youth to learn in a different way—in other words, help make a connection between the student and the subject using new and “different” techniques. It was here that they discovered teaching through creative dramatics intellectually stimulates children!

According to Toby, “Education is not just about curriculum, but about an approach, creating a safe, caring, fun, interactive stage to experience the subject at hand. Children grow and learn when they are nurtured and loved.” Although Toby’s time in this program was short-lived, it changed her forever. This commitment to person and process—not the product—is what guides her to this very day.

In 1959, Toby moved to Maryland with her husband Hal. After several years of teaching, directing and producing, she was asked by Jim Rouse to create a theatrical arts school for the new city of Columbia, MD. It was then she founded the Columbia School for Theatrical Arts (now Columbia Center for Theatrical Arts).

The Columbia Center for Theatrical Arts (CCTA) is a 501 (c)(3) nonprofit organization founded in 1972 by Toby Orenstein at the invitation of visionary developer Jim Rouse. For over 48 years CCTA has educated through the arts by creating theatrical experiences that inspire thought, action, creativity, and change.

Our Mission:

Our Mission is to educate through the arts by creating theatrical experiences that “inspire thought, action, creativity, and change”.

CCTA is dedicated to making these experiences available and accessible to as many members of the community as possible with an emphasis on teaching and nurturing our children regardless of gender, race, religion, ability, age, or socioeconomic status.

Toby believes that if you can reach a child at a young age—while their mental and physical skills are still developing—you can steer them away from anti-social behaviors, help them develop coping skills, and help build higher self-esteem, transforming their lives and enriching the community.

About CCTA Today … 

Today, CCTA continues with Toby’s original mission by creating new theatrical experiences that are not only educational and entertaining but are also proactive and inspirational! Our programs and productions teach life experience and pass along sound moral messages to young audiences.

While originally conceived as an “arts school” where children learn through the performance process (putting on a show), CCTA has grown in several areas. Today CCTA employs more than 80 teachers, directors, writers, actors, musicians, technicians, and consultants under the guidance of a Managing Director, 2 full-time staff members and 2 part-time.

CCTA’s programs can be divided into three main areas:

The Conservatory offers performing arts-based programs designed to nurture and develop the whole child. These include Tots and Kids on Broadway musical theatre classes; After School Programs at area schools; Workshops; Performing Arts Camps; and the nationally-recognized Teen Professional Theatre, recipient of five grants from the National Endowment for the Arts.

Our Theatrical Arts Productions offers professional performances that are related to school curriculum and reflect current social issues and concerns. They are enjoyed by thousands of students each year throughout the Baltimore-Washington area. Favorites include MVP: Jackie Robinson Story; The Diary of Anne Frank; Miss Nelson is Missing; Charlotte’s Web, Holes, The Ugly Duckling and much more!

CCTA’s Outreach Programs are designed to make theatre arts available and accessible to the neediest student in our region those at high risk and low income.  These programs are free to these students.  Programs include the Robinson Residency which brings students from the Baltimore City Public School System to performances of  Most Valuable Player at Toby’s dinner theatre; the After School Project offering free theatre classes/workshops for low and moderate income students in both Howard County and Baltimore City; a Performing Arts Camp for Baltimore City youth; and Expanding Horizons which utilizes theater to deliver speech and social therapies to children and adults with special needs.

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