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VOL. 127 | NO. 88 | Friday, May 4, 2012

Enriching Experience

Germantown Performing Arts Centre blends entertainment, education

By Aisling Maki

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In addition to having surpassed its ticket sale goals for the 2011-2012 season that just ended, Germantown Performing Arts Centre continues to expand its arts outreach efforts to youth and adults throughout the Memphis area and beyond.

The Germantown Performing Arts Centre offers more than just performances, as it continues to expand its outreach such as the above master class with New York-based choreography/dancer Ronald K. Brown. 

(Photo Courtesy of Germantown Performing Arts Centre)

“One of the myths that we’re always trying to counter is that GPAC is just very Germantown-centered, but it isn’t,” said GPAC executive director Tania Castroverde Moskalenko. “Our patron base comes from everywhere, mostly from Memphis.”

The city of Germantown owns GPAC’s building, and the facility’s employees work for the city. With the city paying those overhead costs, Moskalenko said all funds raised go directly to GPAC’s arts programming.

And community support is wide-ranging, with funding generated from individual donors, corporate sponsors and a wide variety of grants, including awards from the National Endowment for the Arts and Tennessee Arts Commission.

For 18 seasons now, GPAC has brought to the Mid-South a diverse cross-section of world-class performers of the caliber seen at venues such as Washington’s Kennedy Center or New York’s Carnegie Hall.

But in addition to performing, visiting artists are asked to engage the local community through educational outreach, which can take various shapes, including master classes, workshops, pre-concert lectures and audience question-and-answer sessions.

That outreach is at the crux of GPAC’s mission, which is to engage, enrich and transform the community through the arts.

“When we’re discussing the opportunities for artists to perform here, outreach is always at the forefront,” Moskalenko said. “That’s not something every artist can do because of their travel schedule, but whenever we can, we do engage them for a performance and some form of community outreach.”

For adults, GPAC offers ArtSavvy sessions – opportunities to learn more about the artists, art forms and cultures of the performances. These free events, typically held two to three days prior to a performance, enhance audience members’ understanding of what they’ll see on stage.

Learners are encouraged to return to GPAC to see the artist’s performance, but it’s not a requirement.

And if an artist’s schedule does not permit them to conduct an ArtSavvy session, GPAC will recruit a local artist who works in the same genre.

For example, GPAC recently hosted Latin jazz percussionist Poncho Sanchez. When Sanchez’s schedule didn’t permit him to lead an ArtSavvy class, local Latin jazz percussionist Felix Hernandez stepped in.

Even Moskalenko, whose background is in dance, taught an ArtSavvy session this season in preparation for the Russian Ballet’s performance of “Swan Lake,” leading 45 adult learners through the history of the choreography and music, and even bringing them all on stage to learn some ballet basics.

“I had brought a basket of pointe shoes from when I used to dance, and I distributed the shoes, and they were fascinated because they had never held a pointe shoe,” Moskalenko said.

“It just created this fantastic conversation about how dancers can stand up on their pointe. That enriches your experience as a patron, and that really is the point of these ArtSavvy classes.”

GPAC also offers a range of age-appropriate educational opportunities for children, including school matinee performances. The 2012-2013 season will include outreach from Tony award-winning tap dancer Savion Glover, who will deliver a lecture and demonstration for 800 children from various local private and public schools.

GPAC education and outreach coordinator Emily Hefly prepares guides to accompany the performances so students can come prepared and be more enriched by the experience.

Also coming to GPAC this season is Spectrum Dance Theater, which will perform a piece called “The Theater of Needless Talents,” based on a concentration camp, where artists were interned by the Nazis during the Holocaust.

“Obviously that’s a dark piece and subject matter, so we wouldn’t bring elementary school kids to that,” Moskalenko said. “We’re going to be working with (nonprofit organization) Facing History and Ourselves to bring older middle school and high school students, who are studying the Holocaust, to see this piece.”

GPAC also hosts free master classes for students studying theater and dance at various academic institutions, including the University of Memphis and Rhodes College.

And staff members, most of whom have theater, dance and music backgrounds, often travel to local schools to deliver presentations.

On Saturday mornings, GPAC offers its celebrated Peanut Butter & Jam Sessions, which introduce preschool-age children to different forms of music, from classical to bluegrass to jazz.

And the facility offers a variety of summer camps for children ages 3 to 12, which this summer will include visual arts, dance and literary camps.

Moskalenko said she’s especially proud of GPAC’s Youth Symphony Orchestra that started in 2009 with 39 students and today has more than 100 students, and has given public performances as far away as Shanghai, China.

She said scholarships are available, and no child who meets the requirements to join the orchestra is turned away because of inability to pay.

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