VPA helps keep area youth busy

Performers from the Honeywell Center's Visual Performing Arts group rehearse a scene from "The Newsies" Friday at Ford Theater. The group will perform their play June 21 and 22 at the Honeywell Center. Photo by Josh Sigler

By Josh Sigler

Wabash area children have been given the opportunity to fight off early summer boredom through a program offered at the Honeywell Center.

The Wabash Visual and Program Arts program, which is funded by the Honeywell Foundation, are “intensive, multi-week summer programs allowing participants to work closely with professional artists and teachers specializing in live theater and visual arts,” according to the program’s website.

The Honeywell Foundation took over the theater program a few summers back.

The program offers opportunities for children of all ages, including an offering for three separate age groups performing theatrical plays at the Honeywell Center.

The first and second grade group performed “Goldilocks and the Bears” on June 14.

The third through sixth grade group will perform “Annie Jr.” on June 21 and 22 at 5 p.m. in Ford Theater.

And finally, the seventh through 12th grade group will perform “The Newsies” on June 21 and 22 at 7:30 p.m. in Ford Theater following the performance of “Annie Jr.”

Director Jessica Keffaber explained that “The Newsies” is a musical based on the 1992 film “Newsies”, which is adapted from the true story of the newsboys strike of 1899 in New York City.

“Basically, it was during the time of the Spanish-American War,” Keffaber said. “The papers all upped their prices because everyone wanted the paper, so they thought ‘hey we can make more money.’ And, after the war was over, demand for the papers fell, but William Hearst and Joe Pulitzer decided they still wanted to make money and decided not to drop prices.”
The newsies, who were their sellers at the time, had to buy the papers to then turn around and sell them to make money.

“They were starting to feel the pinch, and they decided to go on strike,” Keffaber said.

Keffaber said the participants and the staff become a type of family during the rehearsal and production of the VPA programs.

“We’ve got kids from not only Wabash, but we have kids coming to us from Fort Wayne, Indianapolis and Rochester,” she said. “These kids, they form a bond. They become friends, and we really do become a family during these three weeks.”
Not only do the performers form a bond, they also put their talents on display.

“The talent level is amazing,” Keffaber said. “I don’t get to see a lot of these kids throughout the school year, and when they come in, they’re kids that can just sing amazingly and kids that can dance amazingly. They’re hard workers, and the talent is always bright.”

Brendan Rowan is going to be a sophomore at Wabash High School. He said he wanted to participate in VPA after seeing “Annie” with the Wabash Area Community Theatre.

His cousin was part of that production, and it sparked his interest in theater.

In “The Newsies” Rowan plays Davey, who is one of the characters that has some money, unlike the newsies.

Davey’s father got laid off at his job, and so that’s why Davey starts selling papers.

“He starts to realize these kids are being treated really wrong,” Rowan said. “That’s why he helps the other main character Jack start this strike, and rebel.”

Rowan said one of the best parts of participating in the VPA is the kinship developed during the course of rehearsals and performances.

“I have made so many friendships this year and last year,” he said. “It’s so much fun, and I always look forward to making new friendships, especially because there’s kids from all different schools. I go to Wabash and don’t normally talk to the kids that go to Southwood and Northfield. It’s really fun to talk to them.

“I just really love being on stage,” Rowan added. “I’ve learned to step back and be in the moment, and not rush through things.”

Posted on 2019 Jun 18