SPARC’s Live Art: Filled with Exuberance and SurprisePosted: June 4, 2012
Last night we witnessed a world premiere. My daughter and I attended the first ever SPARC Live Art performance which featured two family friends. We were not quite sure what to expect, but we ended up being Enthralled, Engaged and Entertained for over two hours by an Enthusiastic cast that filled the Carpenter Theatre at Richmond CenterStage with EXUBERANCE.
SPARC is the School of Performing Arts in the Richmond Community, a well-known institution throughout the area for talented school-aged children. Traditionally, though, children with developmental and other disabilities, as well as the hearing-impaired, have not been considered the target population for performing arts groups like SPARC. Through the vision of its Director of Education, Erin Thomas-Foley, that seems to be changing as she created Live Art to include such children alongside typically developing students.
The program included art in all of its forms, from singing, sign language, painting with hands and feet (you should have seen the final monster canvas), spoken poetry and musical instruments to dance, mime and acting. The joy on these performers faces as they participated in the non-stop action spread to the audience which embraced the often spiritual and emotional numbers. As the performers created “live art” on stage, those of us sitting in the theater were treated to a colorful display (including a unique computer visualization technology called Dance.Draw) that engaged our senses and had us dancing in our seats.
The whole event was professionally arranged through a huge partnership of local artists, educators, organizations and community supporters. The Saturday Richmond Times-Dispatch article listed some of the local notables who gave their time and talent on and off stage. The Whos-Who of Richmond’s musicians included Steve Bassett, Susan Greenbaum, Jesse Harper, Marc Langlelier, Josh Small and Robbin Thompson, plus Samson Trinh and the Upper East Side Big Band.
The biggest surprise of the night was the special appearance by SPARC’s most famous alum, Jason Mraz. How incredible that Live Art chose to keep his presence a secret beforehand so that the attention would be given to the amateurs participating in the event. Mr. Mraz performed three of his songs with the student troupers on stage and, as he strolled over the canvas covered with wet paint, clearly showed his passion for SPARC and this inclusive, ground-breaking production. Like Ms. Greenbaum’s songs, Mraz’s lyrics for Live High, Sunshine Song and Details in the Fabric really spoke to the importance of recognizing each individual’s creative abilities and unique contributions.
As the mother of a child with developmental disabilities, I could not have been more thrilled to see the Richmond arts community reaching out to this often overlooked population and planning to make Live Art a regular event. The professionals were able to lift up these children by focusing on their abilities, which inspired the rest of the cast, the audience and all of the contributors. Live Art was a wonderful reminder that art is all-inclusive and life-enhancing and should not sideline anyone whether or not they are perceived as “talented”. As the poetry readers recited in unison near the beginning of Act 2,
The Earth without Art is Uuuggghhhhhh.