Where Passion & Industry Intersect


Fall 2018 North Valley Arts Academy Theatre production of Spamalot; Photo: Christi Johnstone

 

Fostering the Arts in Arizona

By Kathryn M. Miller ~

In Arizona, arts and culture industries are more than just passionate undertakings that enrich lives — they are a force that enriches Arizona’s economy. According to the Arizona Commission on the Arts’ 2018 Report to the Governor, Arizona’s arts and culture industries contributed $9 billion to the state’s economy, employing 90,000 Arizonans who earned a combined total of $4.9 billion annually. In addition, arts-related retail trade contributed $1.6 billion to Arizona’s economy.

But the arts are unique in industry — they are passion driven and they enrich the lives of those who create and those who witness in ways that numbers cannot begin to quantify. And nowhere is that more apparent than in the performing arts.

This year, The Phoenix Theatre Company celebrates its 100th season. No institution reaches that milestone without a passion for its mission, which the Company says is, in part, “…inspiring hope and understanding through the arts…” So, where does this passion for performing begin? Look no further than North Valley Arts Academies at PVSchools.

Part of the Paradise Valley Unified School District (PVSchools), the North Valley Arts Academies (NVAA) program is the brainchild of the district’s recently retired superintendent, Dr. James Lee. The goal was to create a program that would be a draw for students wanting to explore their love of the arts. It began with fifth through eighth grade at Desert Cove Elementary and Shea Middle School, offering dance and theater. Soon, visual arts and music technology classes were added.

As the students progressed in their educational careers, the program eventually grew to include Shadow Mountain High School (SMHS). This school year, the NVAA Theatre program at SMHS will graduate its first four-year class.

Under the guidance of teachers Joseph Flowers and Dr. Teresa Minarsich, the Theatre program provides students with rigorous academic classes combined with a college-intensive theater arts emphasis. Accelerated movement, voice, acting, directing and playwriting courses are offered, in addition to a technical track that includes set design and construction, costume and makeup, and lighting and sound.

The programs at SMHS bring together a diverse student population with a singular goal — to create art collaboratively. And many students have found their calling and their ‘people’ within the program.

The NVAA Theatre program presents its fall musical, Roald Dahl’s Willy Wonka. The production includes students from all three NVAA schools and runs Nov. 7–9 at SMHS, 2902 East Shea Boulevard. To learn more about NVAA Theatre, visit www.nvaadrama.com. For additional information about PVSchools, visit www.pvschools.net.

“High school is a really difficult time for most young people, especially given what’s happening in the world,” says Minarsich, who has been at SMHS for four years. “I think it’s vital that every student finds a place that they belong. That could be a sports program, it could be a club, and for a lot of kids it ends up being the arts. I think the arts give you the chance to find people who feel as passionate as you do about an art or expressing yourself in a certain way — singing, dancing, band…you have a sense of belonging and I think that’s really important.”

One of Dr. Minarsich’s students, SMHS senior Aunah Johnson, agrees wholeheartedly.

“As I have come into my senior year, I’ve realized that the thing I love most about theater is the diversity,” Aunah says. “I’ve worked with athletes, cheerleaders, scholars, emos, artists, political junkies; everyone, and they’ve all become people I love immensely because they are so vastly different but still belong to our theatrical family.”

The performing arts can also help young people put a sometimes-confusing world into perspective and provide them with tools that they will carry into adulthood.

“Theatre gave me, as a young high school student, a way to understand the world around me,” says Flowers, who is in his 13th year teaching at SMHS. “It provided me with viewpoints and experiences I didn’t have growing up in Glendale, Arizona. It taught me the power of collaboration and the joy and sweat that go into long-term, complex projects.”

Both teachers say that this power of collaboration brings students a deep sense of satisfaction when they successfully create something that is meaningful to them.

“The performing arts are so collaborative, and the skills you learn from taking an idea that you have, then fleshing that out and creating something that you can then share with the public teaches students so much,” says Minarsich.

The skills that students develop go far beyond the marketable, though, and into the deeply meaningful. Flowers says that students are hungry for an “analogue form of communication” that allows them to connect with each other and the audience, and theater can provide this artistic outlet.

“There is such a disconnect with our society’s use of technology to communicate and our need as humans for face-to-face storytelling and connection. I’ve found both students and community members really respond to getting back to the basics of storytelling with heart.”

Minarsich adds that the art of storytelling also helps students develop empathy — something she believes is severely lacking in the world right now.

“Especially in acting,” she says, “learning how to put yourself in other people’s shoes and live their stories and understand why — their motivations for things, why people do things the way they do — and to see outside yourself.”

“Theater is an art form that brings people together in places where they would otherwise tear each other apart,” agrees Aunah. “I used to believe that it would be impossible for a nerdy, religious girl like me to find a social home, especially in a highly liberal community. Yet here I am, repeatedly embraced by my fellow artists and friends for who I am because at the end of the day, it doesn’t matter where you come from, it only matters that you joined our ensemble in this cast called life.” | CST

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