Looking to entertain youngsters during your visit to Bellingham? A robust calendar of children’s theater events takes place at Bellingham Arts Academy for Youth (BAAY) throughout the year.
For Summer and Fall 2017, BAAY offers productions of Madagascar, The Sword in the Stone and Pixie Pinocchio to name just a few. Camps and workshops include choir, vocal jazz, swing dance, circus and clowning, crochet and dying and felting. The Creation Lab also returns this summer. Students write, direct, act, design set and costumes and tech their own show from scratch. Last year kids in the program wrote the libretto and composed original songs under the mentorship of the experienced BAAY staff and volunteers.
In addition to Bellingham’s numerous Theaters and Music venues. BAAY helps kids of every age find their passion–from their arts-focused preschool, to EduArts after-school enrichment in elementary and middle schools, to their theater production experiences for students 5 to 17. As a performing artist myself, I understand the impact that arts education can have on a young artist and performer. They learn lessons that last a lifetime, like confidence, focus, channeling impulse and connecting with others. I know and have performed with many of the stellar BAAY instructors. The BAAY students I’ve known over the years view their experience as one of the most influential of their young lives.
A Rich History
BAAY began as a simple children’s choir about 11 years ago organized by David Post. Gradually, a dance component was added, and then they began to perform plays and then musicals. Over the years, BAAY has evolved to encompass dance, choir, and the visual and performing arts. Thousands of kids have benefited from some aspect of the program over the years and that doesn’t even include the experience of children who have simply watched their peers pull off a performance.
Post shaped and grew his vision of BAAY before passing the reigns to Ian Bivins in 2016. BAAY knew Bivins well before he became their new Executive Director. I’ve known him while he’s worked there as a volunteer, guest director, and set builder. His broad theater education background informs his teaching on a daily basis. Originally from Helena, Montana, Bivins earned a degree in Theatre and Dramatic Arts at Western Washington University. Much of Bivins’ experience before BAAY has been as an instructor of professional actors from around the globe. He’s taught Margolis Method workshops in Upstate New York, Barcelona, and Bellingham to name just a few. His work with youth has also included improv and performance with Lummi Youth Academy and with high-schoolers in Minnesota schools.
Bivins reminds me that for BAAY, the piece of art created, whether its a sculpture or a stage performance, is not about the end product. Its about the journey. “Our mission is to enrich the lives of children through exploration of the arts and through the cultivation of character, confidence, creativity and community,” explains Bivins. “We’re teaching life skills just as much as we are teaching them to put on a play.” Bivins and his talented team teach by example. They focus on the value of each and every member of an ensemble. Teamwork and mentorship, both between instructors and students and among the students themselves, are paramount.
BAAY also works hard to be inclusive. They extended the equivalent of more than $34,000 in scholarships in 2016 and are on track for even more this year. Their program also focuses on each of the more than 1,500 students they serve as individuals. Everyone gets a role, even if that means there will be two full casts for a production. The revenue generated by some of their larger, more flashy productions like Cats allow them to offer other classes that might otherwise be too expensive to offer alone. BAAY uses that synergy to enrich in areas of greatest interest to its students.
BAAY’s preschool is on-site, using the building while older children are in school. That means preschoolers have access to the stage environment each day. Their 2-day, 3-day and kindergarten readiness options allow flexibility for where ever each child is developmentally. Their focus includes art experiences, gross and fine motor free play in a variety of interest centers and circle times with music, movement, stories and social development plus more theater arts and storytelling opportunities for older children. Local visual and musical artists are brought in to add depth and breadth to the experience.
EduArts brings its talents to students in their elementary and middle schools at an affordable price. Making it easier for parents, kids stay after school for one to three hours a week. The program offers flexibility, working with parents organizations to enrich students with the art forms they are most interested in. A large team of instructors are managed by BAAY’s Juliette Machado to bring fiber arts, 3-D sculpture, mixed media and performing arts instructors directly into area schools throughout the school year.
BAAY uses its space and instructors efficiently, like a well-tuned machine that encourages kids to explore and challenge themselves. Their Pixie Theatre Performers (5 to 8) perform short adaptations of familiar shows with their own unique flair, such as Aristokittens and Pixie Grinch.
BAAY Juniors, kids 9 to 12, perform shows that range from one to two hours in length. BAAY just finished a production of an adaptation of School of Rock and last year did Pippi Longstocking. But BAAY doesn’t limit itself to the classics. Their recent original devised work, East of the Sun West of the Moon, was partially developed and written by the students. Students collaboratively created every aspect of the show from blocking to dialogue and set design.
BAAY Seniors is for ages 13 to 17 takes the same model used for Juniors but to the next level. Students stretch themselves and explore the arts on top of their already busy lives as students and athletes.
If that wasn’t enough, BAAY Pro offers further opportunity for accomplished young performers that are around 16 and 17. BAAY will bring in directors and other professionals to tackle more complex material or focus on specific advanced skills, taking performance to the next level. Last year BAAY Pro went after the complex Les Miserables, a Broadway hit based on the 1862 Victor Hugo novel. This summer BAAY Pro will bring in accomplished Bellingham director Teri Grimes to help students develop their version of The Drowsy Chaperone.
Its About the Journey
BAAY also has a place for kids who don’t need or want to be the center of attention. Costume and set design, lighting and sound, and other behind-the-scenes roles are filled by students eager to learn and contribute.
Bivins says that what happens after the show is evidence of their true success. “Predictably after almost every show, at the cast party there are some tears. Its because they build this tight little ensemble family and deep friendships. They feel safe. They feel respected, listened too. I think they feel loved,” adds Bivins.
Perhaps the greatest benefit of BAAY including something for kids of almost any age is that kids are surrounded by positive role models and mentors. A 5th grader may watch a BAAY Pro production and imagine themselves in those shoes someday. Seeing a performer you’ve met and know pull off that feat makes the aspiration an attainable goal.
Bivins also emphasizes the role of parents in the programs. Not only are they paying tuition, they are volunteering countless hours to assist with set building, costume, hair and make up design, and other essential behind-the-scenes support that BAAY couldn’t function without. BAAY is a truly a complex community focused fully on giving children positive life experiences.
Many BAAY alums go on to study and work in the arts with a greater confidence, readiness and marketable skill set than those that haven’t had the exposure. A handful of alums return as instructors and teachers. Most BAAY instructors have been with the organization for many years because they love their work and BAAY culture of inclusiveness and acceptance.
With a solid foundation, BAAY will continue to help grow the next generation of artists. Bivins is proud of the talent and dedication of his staff. In addition to guide and evolve BAAY’s diverse programs, Bivins would like to continue to build relationships and collaboration with the area’s Lummi Nation and Nooksack Indian Tribe.