In the competitive world of performance arts, talent, perfect bodies and the willingness to rehearse for hours surprises no one. But when the performers are children and the director has the added responsibility of encouraging those with the potential to be stars, what happens to the children with limitations? All too often these children never experience the thrill of applause or what it’s like to feel like a star.
BELIEF IN CHILDREN AS ARTISTS
Pamela Arkin, who has been doing theatre for 45 years, is helping to change things for that special group of children. She believes that performance allows a child to express her “true self,” even when her body isn’t perfect, her ability is limited by disease or deformity, or her mental level or psychological development will never be considered normal.
Pam sees all children as innate, talented performers, and believes they begin life as artists until the typical American school takes this away from them and convinces them they could never be on stage.
Retired barely one year as a Theatre Professor at Longwood University in Virginia, and the winner of a meritorious achievement in Directing award from the Kennedy Center- American College Theater Festival, 67 year old Pam is the Artistic Advisor for a performance program called Live Art.
LIVE ART & SPARC
The umbrella sponsor is a well-established and highly regarded organization called SPARC—School of the Performing Arts in the Richmond Community. Its goal is “to profoundly influence students’ lives… every child that we come in contact with.”
Very few metropolitan areas of Richmond’s size have successful, viable, stand-alone performing arts education organizations, and few such organizations have such broad and holistic educational programs as SPARC.
Pam’s experiences as a director and actor has provided her with endless ideas for assisting in the staging of the current musical numbers for the Live Art performances. Her years on stage in so many different roles gives her a perspective that is rare. She knows when something is going to work, a crucial skill when turning several hundred students into successful performers.
Pam even helped in designing sets, working closely with her husband who is the scenic designer and technical director for the Live Art production.
What’s most exciting to Pam (whose last play was “The Love of Oranges”) is that the 200 stars of Live Art, (aged 13-18), are students with a range of abilities.
A STUDENT’S DREAM
While Pam has long nourished the idea of helping all types of children become successful performers, it was one of her former Longwood students, Erin Thomas Foley, whose dreams literally made it possible.
Erin’s dream was of children’s feet, a huge empty canvas and cans of paint. Mystified, Erin discussed her vision with Ryan Rillerton, Executive Director of SPARC, who immediately signed on to the project.
When Erin told Pam of the dream, Pam remembered seeing special needs children dancing at the Kennedy Center nearly 40 years earlier and the profound effect it had on her.
“I have always believed in the arts for all children,” Pam says, and felt that somehow her student’s dream was expressing the same thing.
She encouraged Erin to share the dream, which she did—discussing the idea with potential supporters throughout the Richmond Community. Eventually it became the Live Art Project.
On June 7, 2015, the third production of this dream–Live Art: Soul–will be presented at the Altria Theatre in Richmond to an audience of over 3,000 people.
Grammy Award winning musical artists such as Jason Mraz, Mandy Moore and Sara Bareilles will perform with a mixture of children who might go on to be world class stars and children who in the past would never be considered capable of being included in such a public event.
Pam calls it a “magic moment.”
Live Art has also changed the lives of parents, teachers and children, Pam says. “It is, in practice, what I have hoped for and have been reaching for all my life.”
*All photos by Tom Topinka.