VIDEO: Grand Forks’ Summer Performing Arts program offers diverse opportunitiesAlong with the 150-plus student performers, many other teens and children have been involved in the Summer Performing Arts program this summer. Part of the mission for SPA, which began in 1988, was to include everyone from the people on stage to the people behind the scenes.
By: Jasmine Maki, Grand Forks Herald
Dressed as medieval royalty and peasants, about a dozen high school freshmen and sophomores filled the small stage in the Red River High School Theatre on Monday morning. Dancing the “Spanish Panic,” the students rehearsed “Once Upon a Mattress,” in full costume.
Across the school, juniors and seniors with oversized cardboard forks, knives and plates strapped to their backs performed “Human Again” in preparation for their production of the classic “Beauty and the Beast.”
Along with the 150-plus student performers, many other teens and children have been involved in the Summer Performing Arts program this summer.
Part of the mission for SPA, which began in 1988, was to include everyone from the people on stage to the people behind the scenes, said Dean Opp, SPA administrative director.
It gives students of all backgrounds and abilities the opportunity to experience the different aspects of performing arts. With technical crews, dance classes and acting lessons, SPA is much more than meets the eye.
‘We embrace that’
On a Wednesday afternoon, about a dozen students and volunteers dance onto the stage, singing Frank Sinatra’s “New York, New York.” They may not be in tune, but the smiles on their faces are enough to make them shine.
As students in the MySPA program, they light up their family members’ faces with their imperfect acting, singing and dancing during an hourlong show.
“If they are out-of-step or blurt something out, that’s OK,” said Yvonne Kalka, MySPA coordinator. “We embrace that.”
MySPA, which started in 2009, gives students with special needs the opportunity to get involved with the arts and participate in a live performance.
During the monthlong program, the students learn new songs and choreographed dances. They also write short skits and paint backdrops for their end-of-program show-and-tell.
“We tailor the program to the kids, that’s why we call it MySPA,” Kalka said. “If we’re choreographing a dance and someone can’t do one of the moves, we’ll change it. We focus on the individual and what they’re capable of.”
Many of the students have Down syndrome or autism, so they are paired with high school volunteers.
Nicolette Cariveau, 18, has volunteered with MySPA for three years.
“These kids just make me smile,” she said. “They’re awesome, and I love hanging out with them.”
Performing with their high school buddies and directors allows the students to gain confidence. Kalka said some students who barely spoke during their first year of MySPA are now performing solos. But for the students, just getting on stage is a real accomplishment.
Hailing from Nepal, China, Vietnam and Somalia, 30 students came together this summer to better their English and learn more about America’s art culture.
ELL SPA, which began in 2011, is an opportunity for English language learners to get involved in the performing arts, while improving their English and earning school credit.
Natasha Thomas, who runs ELL SPA, said SPA looks to inspire students through the arts, but ELL SPA also looks at integration through the arts.
During the program, students spend part of their time with ELL instructors working on the English language and part of their time working on skits to improve their understanding of the culture.
“They get to practice English in the classroom setting and a practical setting,” Thomas said.
This year, the students learned “The Wizard of Oz” and “Alice in Wonderland.”
Many of them have no experience with the arts, so Thomas and her team take time to explain everything from the audition process to the fantastical story lines.
“Some come in literally not understanding anything you say,” she said.
Although there is a translator that can be called in, if necessary, most of the time, repetition is all the students need.
Throughout the program, Thomas and her helpers Connor Joseph and Ian Sherwood, track the students’ improvement, understanding and interaction with one another.
Not only did the students’ English improve, but their ability and willingness to interact with one another more than doubled.
Thomas said the goal of the program is to eventually integrate the ELL SPA students into the regular high school SPA performances. She already has a list of about 15 ELL students who want to participate in regular SPA next year. This was the first year they participated in the SPA Share Day, where students from every program showcase what they’ve been working on over the summer.
Behind the scenes
Some SPA students would rather not get on stage at all.
About 20 make up the technical crew each summer. From building and painting platforms to running light and sound boards, the technical crew works behind the scenes to make productions possible.
Solveig Bloomquist has been a part of SPA since she was in elementary school. Realizing acting wasn’t her forte, Bloomquist became a “techie” as a teen.
“All my friends were here, so I didn’t really want to quit,” she said.
Another student trained her on the light board, and Bloomquist quickly took it over. Working the lights at SPA eventually led Bloomquist to pursue a degree in theater tech and design from the University of Minnesota-Duluth. After her first year of college, Bloomquist is back as a SPA tech assistant. She instructs students on how to paint sets and run lights.
“Most of the kids come in not knowing anything about anything,” she said. “It’s very hands on, head first.”
Bloomquist taught Spencer Carmichael, a Red River High School junior, how to run the light board. Carmichael said he likes the tech side of things because he doesn’t have to be on stage.
Carmichael and Max Schumacher, also a Red River junior, have been on the tech crew together for several years. Carmichael runs the lights, and Schumacher runs the sound.
Schumacher said he joined the tech crew because he would “rather not be known and just add to the performance.” He also likes the problem-solving involved with running the sound board.
Along with operating the light and sound boards, the technical crew is also in charge of scenic construction and painting, spot lights and video.
School of Rock
With a full band, back-up dancers and a surprise beat-boxing solo, seven students entertained the audience with an original song during a class show and tell.
The new band was formed during SPA’s School of Rock, one of many classes offered through SPA. The class, which began in 2008, gives area high school students the opportunity to further develop their musical talents and record original songs or covers with industry standard equipment.
“We want these kids to feel like they’re going to be a superstar,” said Geoff Mercer, who runs the program.
This year, about 20 students participated in the class.
“Some will have a song that they’ve been working on at home, and they’ll come to get some new ideas or to work with some other kids,” he said. “Other kids come in completely blind, and they don’t have a clue.”
Mercer helps the students determine what songs to record and what instruments they’ll need. Then, he pairs them with other students who have those musical abilities.
Meeting four nights a week for one month, the students practice and perfect their songs and eventually sit down with Andy Parr, a Grand Forks recording engineer.
Parr, who has an associate’s degree in audio production, retrofits a classroom for a studio. He said the equipment they use is all industry standard, so the students gain real studio experience.
After recording the different parts of a song, Parr mixes and layers the recordings to create the full track. If a student isn’t satisfied with the mix, he or she can sit down with Parr and re-record.
Once the songs are complete, they are put on a CD for each of the students.
Mercer said students who are serious about a musical career can participate in the program for several years and develop a portfolio or album.
“The goal is just to provide different opportunities for them to learn, express and explore,” he said.
The high school SPA performances kick off today with the premiere of “Once Upon a Mattress,” at 7 p.m. in the Red River High School Theatre. The show runs through July 14. The second production, “Beauty and the Beast,” opens at 7 p.m. July 19 in the Red River High School Performance Hall and runs through July 23.
More Info: For more tickets and performance information, visit www.spacompany.org or call (701) 746-2205.
Maki covers Arts & Entertainment and Life & Style for the Herald and can be reached at (701) 780-1122, (800)477-6572, ext. 1122; or email@example.com.