October 23, 2014

Schoolhouse Center for the Arts offers fall classes - By Elizabeth Richards

Fall classes are underway at the Schoolhouse Center for the Arts in Standish, offering a variety of arts courses for students of all ages. The main feature of the fall education program is the show Jungle Book Kids, which will run on the weekend of November 7th.
Dillon Bates, education director, said they try to cover all aspects of the performing arts, with different levels of acting, music and dance classes primarily targeted toward ages four to 18 years old, though there are a few adult classes as well. Schoolhouse Center for the Arts is in a unique position, says Bates, because the region is underserved in terms of arts for young people. “We’re not only trying to cultivate local artists and kids, and fuel their passions or educate them in areas they are interested in, but we’re also trying to provide an outlet for them in the community to express themselves and to learn,” he said.
The main focus of the education program is to offer arts education to area youth that is affordable and accessible in their region, he added. Arts programs are often first cut when school budgets get tight, so they are trying to protect and provide that outlet elsewhere, he said. 

The highlight of the fall education program will be Jungle Book Kids, a children’s musical that Bates is directing. A fall musical is a new edition, said Bates, fueled by the success of Seussical, the summer musical. That show drew the biggest crowd yet, selling approximately 140 tickets per night. It was the first time that the education program really took off, he said, with a full class and waiting list. 

Bates said he doesn’t recruit talent for children’s theater. It’s a learning experience and everyone who signs up gets into the show. Auditions are for placement, and very low key. “I try to make it very fun and I have a great creative team around me,” he said. 

Shorter than a junior musical, Jungle Book Kids, geared toward 5- to 12-year-olds, is approximately 50 minutes to an hour long. Music is also in an easier key than a junior musical might be, making it a great opportunity for younger children to get involved. The show will run on November 7th at 7 p.m., November 8th at both 2 and 7 p.m., and November 9th at 2 p.m.

Fall classes began in September and run through December. The theater shuts down for the coldest months, and re-opens in March. Another twelve week class program will be offered at that time. These classes may differ from those in the fall, said Bates, but will still cover all ages and experience levels in the three facets of the arts, acting, dance and music. In addition, the education program at Schoolhouse Center for the Arts offers a full slate of summer camps.

There is a performance of some type at the end of a class, said Bates, often in the form of a recital for family and friends. The junior/kids musicals have a full fledged, main stage performance. 

A major renovation to the Schoolhouse Center for the Arts took place this summer, resulting in new and increased seating, an entrance off the gathering room, and a wheelchair ramp leading to a door at the back of the theater. The theater now seats 148, up from 112 seats.

The renovation rose out of a floor replacement project that began in the spring. A grant was secured, allowing the additional renovations. It was exciting to do these improvements, said Cristina McBreairty, president of the board. “We had well over 1,000 volunteer hours into the project,” she said. This is just the beginning, she added. “We have some great plans for the schoolhouse. This is one of many improvements that we want to do.”

The education program is growing, and one of the hopes is to be able to offer classes year round at some point, McBreairty added. The program is improving all the time, she said, and they are offering more now than ever before. “Rome wasn’t built in a day,” she said “We’re moving in the direction we want to.”

New projects and expanded classes require additional funding, but they are things the organization is working towards said McBreairty. People don’t always realize that the center is run entirely on volunteer power, she added, and they are always looking for more help. 

There are many ways to get involved that don’t mean being on stage, such as selling concessions, cleaning, box office, costumes, set design and building, and much more. “There are so many ways that volunteers can help out, and it makes such a difference,” she said.

Upcoming events at the Schoolhouse Center for the Arts include a weekend haunted house throughout the month of October, Jungle Book Kids in November, and a production of A Christmas Story in December. For more information or to get involved, visit www.schoolhousearts.org, call 642-3743, or email schoolhousearts@gmail.com.

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