Summer camp puts the art in theater

Myers-Wilkins Elementary School has been taken over by the arts. In one room, 7-year-old Presley Johnsrud sits painting blue swirls in the background of a portrait.

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Alexis Franklin, 10, plays a female artist trying to get her work noticed by a snobby art appraiser played by 9-year-old Drake Johnsrud. Clara DelValley and Ariana Ferguson look on in the background. (Photo by Teri Cadeau)

Myers-Wilkins Elementary School has been taken over by the arts. In one room, 7-year-old Presley Johnsrud sits painting blue swirls in the background of a portrait.

"It takes time to paint the person," she said. "You have to mix all the colors together. I like doing the hair the best. You can style it however you want."

Next week Presley's painting will be one of several on display onstage as part of the backdrop of "Total Eclipse of the Art," a play to be performed by the Hillside Youth Theatre summer camp.

About 60 Hillside youth ages 8 to 17, including Presley, have learned about acting, dance, set design and construction, singing, technical directing and costume-making while building their literacy skills in this six-week summer program.

"We want to give the students a chance to explore every facet of putting together a play," said Myers-Wilkins Community School Collaborative executive director Jen Eddy. "Some kids may not be so into the acting portion, so they really enjoy all of the other sessions."


Next week, the students will move to the stage at East High School to present this year's summer production, an art mystery musical written by local playwright Jean Sramek. The story follows two kids who stumble across a painting they find beside a garbage can. They set out to find out the price for the painting and how much money they can get for it.

"I like the songs in the show," said 8-year-old Kirn Sangh.

The show includes parodies of popular songs, such as "Purple Paint," inspired by Prince's "Purple Rain," and TV shows such as the "Knick Knack Street Fair," inspired by the Antiques Roadshow.

"The kids have been learning a lot about art this summer. They've learned about different art movements and why certain art is considered more valuable than others. For example, that women's art hasn't been valued as much as men's art in the past," said Rachel Thapa, the director of youth development programs at community school collaborative

During a scene at the "Knick Knack Street Fair," a female painter comes to get her work appraised. The man criticizes her work and says that while it's not worthless, it is "worth less" than if she were a man.

The artist isn't hindered. She dresses up as a man and goes back with the exact same painting, which is then revalued for a much greater amount, $203,000.

"I knew it!" the artist cries as she launches into a song about undervaluing women's artwork.

The exploration of art doesn't stop there. Every week, the students have learned about a different art movement, the artists involved in the movement, looked at examples and created their own works inspired by what they see. This week the students learned about fauvism, a short art movement around the turn of the century which explored the use of ultra bright colors.


"I really like this one because of the bright colors. It feels weird to paint things the wrong colors, though," said 10-year-old Alayna Ferguson as she colored a tree bright yellow.

The free camp runs five days a week for six weeks. The students are provided breakfast and lunch for free as well as transportation to the camp.

"We want to make it accessible to all students who wish to be involved," Eddy said.

The camp is mostly funded by grants, but the school collaborative does fundraise a portion of the costs. The performance on July 23, which includes a silent auction, music and appetizers, is one such fundraiser. The suggested donation for that performance is $15. All other performances are free.

If you go

What: A Total Eclipse of the Art

Where: East High School Auditorium, 301 N. 40th Ave. E.

When: Free matinee performances at 1 p.m. on Thursday and Friday, July 23 and 24. Evening performance at 6 p.m. on July 23 with suggested donation of $15. Free evening performance 7 p.m. on July 24.

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