Taking the National Stage

Posted: Sunday, March 09, 2008

Dozens of Juneau fourth- and fifth-graders will stage a send-off performance of the "Tides and the Tempest" on Monday night before bringing the play to the nation's capital.

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Brian Wallace / Juneau Empire
Brian Wallace / Juneau Empire

Glacier Valley Elementary School is one of five schools across the nation to win the Kennedy Center for the Arts Education Network Creative Ticket National Schools of Distinction Award, and the first-ever recipient of the award from Alaska. As part of the honor, 34 elementary-school students will perform the play in Washington, D.C., at the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts on Friday and at the National Museum of the American Indian at the Smithsonian on Saturday.

Director and resident artist Ryan Conarro said Glacier Valley's schoolwide Art is Elementary Program has helped the students blossom artistically and academically.

"I understand why this school won this award because these students are just accustomed to working in the arts and the demands that are placed on them by performance and by high artistic standards," he said.

Although fourth- and fifth-grade students will represent the school in Washington, D.C., all grades have their hands in the production. The school's art program provides the students with important educational tools, Conarro said.

"It brings them focus, motivation, sense of being a team player, all those things that are benefits of the arts. These guys have such a strong foundation at this school that they bring it right into performance," he said. "I think they are going to really impress the audience in Juneau as well as on the East Coast."

Arts educator Lorrie Heagy said the school's arts program is subsidized through contributions from businesses, organizations and individuals who provide art lessons on a weekly basis. The school has been collecting data on how infusing arts into the academic arena makes a difference in tests scores, behaviors and attendance, she said.

"So much is data-driven by what is done in school that we wanted to show something locally that has already been proven nationally, that when you integrate the arts into the core content it makes a difference," Heagy said.

The school chose to stage "Tides and the Tempest" again after receiving the award, but said drama is just one of the many artistic media the students have had access to through the Art is Elementary Program.

Conarro said "Tides and the Tempest" is a fusion of William Shakespeare's play "The Tempest" and the Tlingit oral tradition story of Naatsilanei and the creation of the killer whale, a story that was adapted by local playwright Dave Hunsaker.

"Dave Hunsaker does a very clever job, a very nice, beautiful job, of intertwining the stories and at a certain crucial point, the two lead characters meet. It sort of demonstrates that these two cultures do have a lot in common and have a lot to share with each other," Conarro said.

The students have created elaborate Tlingit-inspired costumes and props and have interwoven Native songs and learned some Elizabethan dance.

"I've learned how to speak Shakespeare and learned some Tlingit songs," said fifth-grader Carissa Anderson.

Zach Dindinger, 11, said he is excited about performing in his first play and has learned a lot about teamwork. He said he also has enjoyed the Native music and the creative masks made for the production.

"They're totally different and they're really exaggerated based on their personality in the play, so like some of them have huge noses," Dindinger said.

Jade Saavedra, a fifth-grader, said being in her first play has been challenging, but she is excited about performing in Washington.

"It's been hard, but once you get used to it, it gets easier and more exciting," she said.

The award and chance to perform in the nation's capital show that the arts program is important, Saavedra said.

"It's representing that our school is just not any regular kind of school," she said. "It's actually a very nice and cool school to be in."

Finding the funds to send dozens of students, teachers and chaperones to Washington has been no simple task, Heagy said. The school set the goal in September of raising $65,000 for the production and travel costs. As of last week, the school was about $4,000 short from meeting the goal, she said.

"It's closing in, and we're hoping, with ticket sales from the Monday night performance, that will close that gap so we can leave Juneau knowing we raised the money we needed," Heagy said.

A silent auction also will be held at 6 p.m. in the Juneau-Douglas High School commons. The auction will include an array of Native art, including three Tlingit button blankets produced for the show. The play begins at 7 p.m. in the JDHS auditorium.

Heagy said she hopes the community will come to show its support on Monday night because the award would not have been possible without all the players that have helped make the Glacier Valley art program possible.

"This award is really something that belongs to the entire Juneau community," she said.

• Contact reporter Eric Morrison at 523-2269 or eric.morrison@juneauempire.com.



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