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Warren Gerds/Critic at Large: Center Stage High School Musical Theater Program resumes in Appleton

High School Theater

Fox Cities Performing Arts Center

Introduction to Center Stage program at Fox Cities Performing Arts Center presentation March 9, 2020. (Warren Gerds)

APPLETON, Wis. (WFRV) – A record 24 schools are participating in the fifth year of Center Stage High School Music Theater Program offered by Fox Cities Performing Arts Center.

At this time, activities are taking place virtually due to the coronavirus COVID19 pandemic.

For schools, the program is a chance to have their efforts recognized and evaluated. For the public, the program brings awareness of the scope of musical theater activity throughout the region.

“We worked kind in combination with our high school music theater directors all summer long as we were trying to figure out what the school year was going to look like, and we were really excited to hear from our directors that this a program that is very meaningful and, as a program, it has value as an opportunity to showcase and highlight some great talent we have in our high schools as well as give them an extra opportunity to learn from the professionals,” Maria Van Laanen, PAC president, said this morning on WFRV-TV’s “Local 5 Live.”

Workshops are held throughout the program year. The first, on the process of auditioning, was held last week and will be featured Thursday on WFRV.

“I think people kind of take for granted how strong the arts programs are in our schools and that’s very unique to the area,” Van Laanen said. “So we felt that it was important in order to preserve and ensure that tradition we need to make sure that more people in our community are aware.

“The Center Stage program allows us that opportunity to really shine a spotlight on the great things that are happening in our local schools.

“And we love the opportunity of bringing professional artists into the classroom – although it will be virtually this year – so that the students can see what the possibilities are, what the hurdles are. I think so often they think of this as an ideal – one way or another, somehow they’re just magically going to make it, or they’re being told all the time, ‘This is impossible, choose something else.’ So to get a reality check and really hear from the people who are doing it is a valuable information tool added to their toolbox as they go on their journey.”

Participating in the 2020-21 program:

Ashwaubenon High School

Brillion High School

Denmark High School

De Pere High School

Fond du Lac High School

Fox Valley Lutheran High School, Appleton

Green Bay East High School

Green Bay Preble High School

Green Bay Southwest High School

Green Bay West High School

Hortonville High School

Kaukauna High School

Laconia High School

Little Chute High School

Luxemburg-Casco High School

Mishicot High School

Neenah High School

New London High School

Pulaski High School

St. Mary Catholic High School, Neenah

Southern Door County High School

Valley Christian School, Oshkosh

Weyauwega-Fremont High School

Winnebago Lutheran Academy, Fond du Lac

The Center Stage program was launched in 2015 “as an education initiative that celebrates and supports the achievements of high school musical theater while developing confidence, creativity and collaboration among high school students throughout Northeast Wisconsin,” according to the center. “Education opportunities are provided all season long for students and educators to learn and grow together in their craft. This year, those workshops and opportunities will be present in a virtual program as the Fox Cities P.A.C. continues to grow the program’s reach.

“While this year may look different, we are thrilled to provide students with a virtual learning environment to expand their horizons and learn more about the performing arts industry from local and national professionals,” said Amy Gosz, the PAC director of programming and community engagement. “We have seen how this program has built camaraderie between participating schools, encouraged high school students to work together to accomplish their goals and served as a public demonstration of the importance of arts opportunities in our communities.”

Trisha Witt, the PAC’s director of marketing and communications, also answers a few questions:

Is there any judging/evaluation as part of this season?

“Yes, we will send adjudicators to any of the school’s musicals, if they have them, whether virtual or in person. We will give them feedback at that time.”

Has “national” provided suggestions, or is this a PAC initiative?

“The Jimmy Awards will take place this year, but will be all virtual. We are awaiting details, but we will participate and will send two students (virtually). However, the process for choosing these two students will also be different. We are currently working on the details and will finalize once the Jimmy Awards have finalized their plans.”

Will the process lead to a show or event or be virtual? 

“Yes, hopefully an event/show, but it could be virtual. This will depend on a lot of things, such as how the virus is doing, if schools are back in person, etc.”

What is the PAC providing high schools re: ideas? 

“We will have those amazing workshops again all season long and have been holding virtual meetings with the directors to help with whatever we can, to help them meet each other and collaborate, etc.”

What is expected of the high schools?  “They do not have to put on a musical this year to participate. I’m working on gathering all of the schools’ plans for what they may produce… The workshops will be available to all of the schools – and going virtual with them means that we aren’t as limited in number of students that can be in the room with the person leading the workshop.”

Copyright 2020 Nexstar Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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