For one night only, nearly 600 Durham public school children will occupy the stage of the Durham Performing Arts Center.
At 7 p.m. on Feb. 21, elementary, middle and high school students from across the district be featured in “An Evening of Entertainment,” a fundraiser for the Durham Public Schools Scholarship Foundation.
The event, which celebrates its 35th anniversary this year, will showcase choral students performing choreographed numbers to a live band of professional musicians.
Mary Casey, the event’s producer and arts director for DPS, said the event is designed to showcase the talent in Durham schools and also to raise scholarship funds for graduating high school seniors.
Casey said pulling the event together is a huge group effort that includes music teachers, local and guest choreographers, a vocal clinician, board members and community support.
“That’s what makes it possible to do this kind of thing,” Casey said. “It’s the coming together of a lot of different parts. It’s what makes it doable – the delegation down.”
To start, students learn the songs for the event from their school’s chorus teachers and are then taught the choreography in large group rehearsals with all of the district schools. They are divided into elementary, middle and high school groups for these rehearsals.
Willie Hinton, professional dancer, choreographer and artistic director for Arts in Action, a dance-based program for 4th grade students in DPS, designed the choreography for all 240 elementary school children. Hinton said he wasn’t fazed by the prospect of teaching hundreds of children.
“I knew what I was getting myself into because it’s not too far from what I do now,” Hinton said. “I’m used to working with a mass amount of kids.”
Hinton began rehearsing with the elementary school students in January in the Riverside High School gymnasium, which can hold up to 800 people.
Erin Dangler, director of Broadway Bound in Chapel Hill, a musical theater dance company, choreographed the middle school students’ dance numbers. Dangler also began rehearsing with her students in January.
Unlike the elementary and middle school children, the high school students did not begin rehearsals until last Saturday. Mike Weaver, a freelance director and choreographer who directs show choirs across the country, drove in from Virginia to direct the high school students. Weaver said that despite having limited rehearsal time, the students rise to the occasion and put on a great show.
“It’s the miracle of the performing arts,” Weaver said. “Kids are apt to come up with what you expect of them. If you set the bar high, while making it achievable, they’ll come up to it.”
Weaver choreographed last year’s “An Evening of Entertainment,” as well as the 1993 performance. In addition to working primarily with the high school students, he will also choreograph the show’s opening and closing numbers, which will feature the elementary, middle and high school children together on the same stage.
Weaver said returning to North Carolina for “An Evening of Entertainment” is an opportunity to work with many children who may not have access to the best or newest dance facilities, but have passion for the arts.
“Sometimes it’s not really about talent or nice facilities,” Weaver said. “It’s about commitment and desire and passion. And there’s a lot of that in the kids in Durham.”
Dena Byers, Hillandale Elementary’s music teacher who also functions as a liaison for all Durham elementary school music teachers, said the event is something the kids look forward to every year and continue participating in throughout their educational careers.
“It’s nice to see that progression,” Byers said. “To see the kids using that expression, enjoying the event and continuing on with it. It’s nice to see the kids you had in elementary school carry on through middle school and then in high school. And you see them onstage and you think, ‘I taught you, I taught you and you.”
Dangler said that seeing the kids’ joy and excitement in performing on the DPAC stage is what makes all the hard work worth it for her.
“It’s very exciting to be there,” Dangler said. “The kids’ eyes light up just to be in such a professional space, where so many professional artists have performed. It puts in perspective the enormity of this project.”
Linda Routh, president of the DPS Scholarship Foundation, said the event’s ticket sales go toward providing college scholarships to graduating seniors.
“We’re helping people realize their dream of furthering their education,” Routh said.
In order to support Durham public school students, Routh, Casey, Hinton, Weaver, Byers and Dangler encourage all community members to attend “An Evening of Entertainment.”
“You should come to be inspired, to be entertained, to be moved, to be touched, to be awestruck,” Hinton said. “It’s going to be an amazing experience for all – the participant and the spectator.”
“We’re here to show the community the best things that DPS have to offer,” Byers said.
Casey said the longstanding nature of the event is a testament to its importance to the school system and greater community. She said she hopes the event will be around for many years to come.
“We’re ending the show with the song ‘Celebration’ as a way of celebrating 35 years of ‘An Evening of Entertainment,’” Casey said. “It needs to keep going.”
If you go:
When: Thursday, February 21, 2013
Time: 7 p.m.
Where: Durham Performing Arts Center at 123 Vivian Street, Durham
Ticket prices are $10, 15, $25, $30, $35 and are available online at www.DPACnc.com and by phone (919) 680-2787
Contact Mary Casey (919) 560-3721, Linda Routh (919) 443-5735 or Rachel Lawrence (919) 612-3474 for more information
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