Recitals, Rainbows and a Rap – Culver City Schools Celebrate Theatre Arts During Extravaganza

By Joanna Brody

 

The three Rs -- recitals, rainbows, and a rap -- that took place last Friday night may be less than traditional. But they still signified that a whole lot of education is going on in Culver City Unified School District (CCUSD) -- an education delivered via theatre arts.

 

More than 900 CCUSD families and Culver City community leaders and residents packed Vets Auditorium (CCHS’s interim theater while the Frost is being renovated) on an unusually rainy night. They all came together to celebrate CCUSD Front and Center Theatre Collaborative, a unique partnership of six theatre companies who provide in-school and after-school workshops, assemblies and field trips to our TK-12th grade students. This partnership, started 8 years ago with seed funding from Sony Pictures Entertainment, now creates an unparalleled collective impact, giving CCUSD the highest concentration of theatre arts programming per student of any Los Angeles County school district.

 

Why theatre arts? While access to every art form is beneficial to students, theatre arts offers a different type of student engagement. In particular theatre arts encourage students to be brave, daring and expressive by using their bodies, faces and all five senses. Theatre arts enhance both verbal and non-verbal communication, boost self-esteem, fuel collaboration, create empathy and respect, and offer leadership opportunities. Furthermore, theatre arts goes beyond performing to offer a wide spectrum of artistic opportunities, from storytelling, music and dance to writing, set design/visual arts and production. “The idea is not to make actors or performers out of all these kids,” said CCUSD Superintendent Dr. Josh Arnold, “but to broaden their educational base and offer them different ways of processing the learning that they are getting in the rest of the curriculum.”

 

During the evening’s Extravaganza, the six theatre art partners - We Tell Stories, Story Pirates, 24th Street Theatre, Young Storytellers, The Actors’ Gang and Center Theatre Group – conducted pre-show workshops, and then performed for the crowd. Each performance included CCUSD students who either participated on stage or were involved from the audience.

 

Mid-show, Dr. Arnold channeled Lin Manuel-Miranda in a Hamilton-inspired rap during which he introduced #culvercreates and declared “Arts Education for All is what we claim.” The rap was followed by a 10-minute live, text-to-donate whirlwind, in which more than $11,000 of the $20,000 fundraising goal was raised.

 

In a nod to Culver City’s Centennial celebration, the show’s big finish were 150 CCUSD K-12th grade students singing the Wizard of Oz’s “Over the Rainbow” in front of the rainbow-inspired backdrop. The backdrop, created from ribbons hung from the rafters, was the vision of the show’s producer, Heather Moses, who is CCUSD’s Front and Center Theatre Collaborative coordinator. For weeks before the show, she asked the community to write what their vision for arts education is in CCUSD on colored ribbons. The ribbons were then transformed into the evening’s backdrop, representing the collective voice of Culver City, sharing its bold, simple, powerful, complex, ideal, childlike, sophisticated and audacious dreams for arts education. The main message from the stage: Arts Education for All is not somewhere over the rainbow. It is right here in Culver City, right now.

 

In this 2016-2017 school year, the art partners are delivering more than $200,000 worth of programming, 475 hours of classroom and afterschool instruction, and more than 30 assemblies and field trips across all school sites and grades. And while the programming is free to students, it is not free to run them. The Culver City Education Foundation (CCEF) has been financially supporting the Collaborative with moneys donated from multiple funders including Sony Pictures Entertainment, The Carol and James Collins Foundation, the Fineshriber Family Foundation, and CCUSD PTAs. CCEF is hoping to expand the programming with increased funding for the coming years.

 

People can still donate toward the $20,000 goal, up until April 1. If you want to show your support for arts education, you can send a check with your donation to CCEF, PO Box 4178, Culver City CA 90231, or contribute online via www.ccef4schools, or text your donation to 41444. In the text box be sure to type 1) culvercreates (no spaces), 2) the amount you want to give, 3) and your name or any message you want to send. You will receive a text back with instructions on how to complete your pledge.

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