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The show must go on: how the Youth Enrichment Project is helping keep art in schools

  • Written by Kirsten Abel, Features Writer

Barbara Afanador knows the value of live art. As a member of the board of directors of the Northshore Performing Arts Center Foundation, she’s seen firsthand the impact theater can have on young students.

“I know that my son started acting in second grade and it was because he had seen live performances,” she said. “Sometimes it sparks a student.”

Toad PrinceTwo rod puppets featured in “Toad Prince,” a show being put on at several Northshore Schools by Tears of Joy Theatre based in Portland. (Photo courtesy of Tears of Joy Theatre)But school budgets are often too tight for field trips to the theater, and many family budgets are too. That’s the dilemma the Northshore Performing Arts Center Foundation’s Youth Enrichment Project aims to resolve. If the students can’t go to the theater, bring the theater to the students.

The Youth Enrichment Project, which Afanador has been in charge of for the past three years, partners with two touring theater companies, the 5th Avenue Adventure Musical Theater Touring Company based in Seattle and the Tears of Joy Theatre based in Portland.

The shows put on by the two companies are completely free to participating schools in the Northshore School District and are paid for by funds and grants raised by the Northshore Performing Arts Center Foundation.

Schools sign up for their choice of one, or in the case of some larger schools, two live shows. A date is set and the touring company performs its show in the school’s gym or auditorium.
Tears of Joy is a rod puppet theater and offers a show this season called “Toad Prince,” described as a version of the “Beauty and the Beast” story set in China.

The 5th Avenue Adventure Musical Theater is putting on a show called “Free Boy,” which tells the story of a 13-year-old slave from the Washington Territory in the 1850s who escapes to Canada.

Both companies write their own shows, build their own sets and practice extensively before each season. “They put everything together,” Afanador said. “They are just phenomenal.”

Twelve Northshore School District schools are participating this season, which runs from January to May. “They have been so supportive of it,” Afanador said.

One of the schools involved in the program is Woodin Elementary. Melody Lee, a music teacher at Woodin, called the experience of live theater an “invaluable” one for her students.

“Not only does it help elementary school aged students develop an appreciation for the arts at a young age, it also helps students develop a love of stories and reading,” Lee wrote in an email interview.

The Youth Enrichment project was started with two schools in 2011 by Suzette Hart, then the President of the Northshore Performing Arts Center Foundation. The project has been expanding rapidly ever since.

“Our mission statement says we need outreach and we need to reach the schools and the children,” Afanador said. “I saw that as something I really wanted to do.”

Depending on the amount of funding the program receives, Afanador estimates it may grow to include up to 15 schools in the coming year.

“It’s a year to year thing,” she said. “I have to cut it off when we’re at that line if we don’t have any more money.”

Although her tenure on the Foundation’s board will come to an end this June, Afanador said she’ll continue to help with the Youth Enrichment Project.

“I believe in volunteering,” she said. “I can’t give it up.” However, instead of heading the whole project by herself next year, she plans to shift it into more of a committee-style operation. A handful of volunteers will be recruited, each one of whom will be in charge of scheduling shows for a certain number of schools.

Those interested in participating in, volunteering with or donating to the Youth Enrichment Project can visit npacf.org.

“I want people to know that this program is there and that our Foundation is doing this,” Afanador said. “For some of these kids, this may be their one chance to see live art.”

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