Action PAC: Peforming Arts Center program gives students a front-row seat
By Rachel Hansen, Wenatchee World staff writer, courtesy of the Wenatchee World
Friday, February 10, 2012
Their small hands glued to the theater seats in front of them, third-graders Hope Schooley, Katya Kazulina and Elizabeth Hepton seemed entranced by the ninjas on stage at the Performing Arts Center Wednesday.
NANDA, a four-man acrobat-ninja act, flung themselves at each other in a tightly choreographed dance of punches, flying kicks and dramatic falls. For the grand finale, two jugglers stood on the two others’ shoulders, tossed a few dozen clubs, then backflipped down onto the stage.
First- and second-grade boys pointed at the stage, yelling “whoa!” Some threw their hands on their heads as if taking cover.
More than 350 students from six area schools packed the theater for NANDA’s one-hour demonstration, the third installment of the PAC’s Education Outreach series this year.
About five times a year, the PAC invites students — public, private and home-school — for a short workshop where they meet performers and learn about their art. In October, students watched Doktor Kaboom conduct his wacky, hands-on science experiments. Last month, the Wenatchee Valley Symphony introduced different instruments and their sounds.
“They’ve all been so different, but this (NANDA) was one of the most inspiring outreach performances I’ve seen,” said Sarah Wilkins, outreach and marketing manager for the PAC. “They created every part of this — the sound effects, the music ... The message was if you can dream it, you can do it. That’s so powerful right now.”
The outreach program began three years ago as a way to expose more kids to live performance — whether it’s dance, theater or ninja acrobats — especially kids who couldn’t afford to see the show otherwise, Wilkins said. The PAC charges $5 per student, or $3 for schools where more than 60 percent of the kids qualify for free or reduced-cost lunches. If every seat is full, the fee is just enough to pay the performer for the workshop, Wilkins said. If not, the program’s sponsors (Wenatchee Valley College this year) cover the shortfall.
“It’s not about dollars and cents,” Wilkins said. “It’s hearing the kids say, ‘I love the sound of the wolf!’ or ‘I didn’t realize I would see live people.’ ”
But it’s getting harder to find schools that can afford the time and cost, Wilkins said. Schools can’t squeeze in as many field trips when their days are packed with core academics — math, science, reading and writing — in order to make federal testing requirements.
Most schools pay for the PAC outreach shows with a mix of parent support, parent-teacher associations and general funding, which have all been stretched thin over the past few years, Wilkins said.
The members of NANDA said they would have reacted with the same awe and amazement as the students Wednesday had they been exposed to acrobatics earlier. The four ninjas, all in their late 20s, have known each other since they were toddlers in Port Townsend. Their show evolved from play-fighting and juggling in the backyard.
“It would have been pretty awesome to have someone show us this stuff when we were young, but we started in the backyard, just hitting each other and having fun,” NANDA member Kiyota Sage said after the show. “It’s definitely organic. It’s not a classic, well-defined thing we’re doing. It’s very inventive and it’s very much about using your imagination.”
As NANDA said their goodbyes Wednesday, faint sounds — “Wa-pssh!” “Kssh!” — could be heard from a group of third-grade boys already throwing fake punches in their seats and whispering sound effects.
“I think the beginning was the coolest, when anyone who had the jacket was invincible,” Jackson Marotta, a third-grader at St. Paul’s Lutheran School, said after the show.
“I think it was cool how they juggled from the top (of each others’ shoulders), because I thought it would make the guys on the bottom fall over,” said his classmate, Robert Riggan.
“Hey, we should do that for the talent show!” third-grader Ryan Lovercamp chimed in. The other boys leaned in to work out a plan.
Rachel Hansen: 664-7139: email@example.com