This holiday season, enjoy dinner and a show as Peoria Area Performing Arts Studio (PAPAS) presents two performances of its annual Madrigal Dinner. PAPAS student members will act, sing and dance in this light-hearted affair, while the audience feasts on a catered meal and gets into the holiday spirit. It’s the fourth annual event for the organization, which has been teaching children the performing arts since 2002.
The Classroom and Beyond
Led by director Dedra Kaiser and assistant director Bryan Blanks, PAPAS provides a range of classes, workshops and productions to more than 200 students each year. Music and performing have been integral parts of their lives since childhood, and they’re passionate about sharing the experience with their students. “Throughout our years of working in arts education, I have witnessed how much of a positive influence music, theater and dance can have on the lives of young adults,” Kaiser affirms.
Kaiser and Blanks have long been active in the community theater scene as performers, directors and choreographers. Their most recent directorial projects have included youth productions of Hairspray for the Community Children’s Theatre and School of Rock at Peoria Players Theatre. This past summer, both instructors performed onstage with students in Corn Stock’s production of Shrek: The Musical.
Passing on their love for performing, Kaiser and Blanks offer a full docket of classes that encompass singing, dancing and acting. Many of their students start in elementary school and continue all the way through high school. “Several students are involved in multiple classes to build their skills and technique in a variety of performance areas,” Blanks adds.
Recently, they’ve adapted a pair of plays that deal with important social issues. “One was written by our students on the topic of bullying,” Blanks explains. “The other… dealt with the aftermath of school shootings, and the short- and long-term effects of this tragedy. We will be taking these productions to schools and youth programs through our educational outreach program.”
Theater as Therapy
PAPAS provides an accepting and nurturing environment for kids who may by shy or reluctant to participate in other extracurricular activities. “I’ve seen students with social anxiety bloom in the setting of musical theater education—it’s a safe environment that challenges them in a unique way,” Blanks explains. “I’ve also witnessed students who deal with depression and anxiety find comfort and safety within our walls, because music and theater relies on trust within the ensemble.”
In addition, the performing arts allow students to explore different sides of themselves—and their growth and progress is highly rewarding to watch. “The benefits don’t happen overnight, but these kids grow in self-confidence, discipline and motivation over the years,” Blanks adds. “Some walk in barely feeling comfortable to say their name out loud, and months later they are the strongest members of our comedic improvisation group. It can be life-changing.”
Among PAPAS’ most popular classes are its competitive show choirs—including Soundwave (for high school students) and Vocal Velocity (for grades five through eight). They compete at events throughout the year and are partially supported by local sponsors to help cover tuition and costume fees. Last year, Soundwave competed in the Show Choir Nationals at the Grand Ol’ Opry in Nashville, Tennessee.
According to Blanks, numerous PAPAS students have gone on to pursue theater, dance and improvisation at the college level. “This is our fourth year with a high school show choir and fifth year with a high school acting troupe. Two of our high school alumni will be coming back to perform in the Madrigal Dinner,” he explains. “Several of our middle school students are now looking at theater as a possible career.” Educators from Missouri State and Western Illinois University have visited PAPAS recently to discuss pursuing the performing arts as a career after college.
PAPAS’ annual Madrigal Dinner takes place at the Trailside Event Center in Peoria Heights on December 3 and 4, 2019. It plays on all the strengths of the students, from the singers and carolers to the acting troupe who will role-play as king, queen and the royal court for the medieval-themed event. Appearances by the Jester and the Wench are sure to keep the festivities light-hearted and fun. Later this month PAPAS will partner with Peoria Players Theatre for the Peoria Players & PAPAS Holiday Special on December 20, 21 and 22. PM