2015 has been a milestone year for the Westhampton Beach Performing Arts Center (WHBPAC), who after serving more than 600 students in their camps and classes, and producing 14 full-scale performances at WHBPAC this year alone, is relaunching the Nancy & Frederick DeMatteis Arts Education Programs for Children as its new Arts Academy.
“We started as an arts education program, years and years ago,” shared Julienne Penza-Boone, Director of Arts Education at WHBPAC. “As the years went by, the program really started to evolve into something year-round.” While the Arts Education Programs for Children had always presented school day performances throughout the year, WHBPAC decided to try their hand at after school theater classes for students, focused on acting, singing and dancing, in 2009. “The classes would culminate with a showcase for the parents,” noted Penza-Boone. “As the core year-round participants grew, in 2010, we began producing musicals and plays on our own stage.” WHBPAC’s courses eventually expanded to its current programming, which includes a tween theater company, teen theater company, and a workshop with the Peconic Ballet Theater.
“So now we’re at this place where we’re offering sequential skill based classes, so kids can really grow year to year, building on their existing skills, and every program that we have culminates in a production that we build from the ground up,” explained Penza-Boone. “We bring in the sets, the costumes, all of it, and then they perform on our stage.” She credits a big part of the program’s growth to their facility. “We have these teaching artists, who are here year-round,” Penza-Boone noted. “Back in the day, we used to bring in teaching artists from other places. We still work with the Missoula Children’s Theatre, but that’s really what it used to be.” Currently the academy has a staff of approximately 12 local teaching artists, who are all experts in their field, that assist with the development of WHBPAC’s curriculum.
The Arts Academy already has a pretty wide reach across Long Island, with students traveling from as far west as the William Floyd district and as far east as Southampton to either take a class or watch a student performance. And many of them typically come back year after year. “That’s really where the academy came in,” explained Penza-Boone. “We have these students that start with us at age six and are with us now, they’re 13 and in our teen production.”
So what does the WHBPAC hope students take away? “Now that we’ve become an academy, we want to see our students grow in skill,” said Penza-Boone. “We want to see them become better singers, actors, and really improve on their performance skills, but more than that, we want to see them become more confident, to see them become more empathetic, and we want to see them become creative problem solvers.” They hope the participants learn skills that will translate into the real world. “They’re not all going to go on and be actors,” noted Penza-Boone. “I mean that would be great if that happened, but what we want is for them to be able to speak in front of a room full of people and not be struck with fear.”
As for the future of the Arts Academy, Penza-Boone believes the next frontier is adult education. “We are always trying to build new programs and we have this great program for seniors,” she explained. Melodies and Memories, their program for senior citizens, was founded six years ago, and they’re offering their first class for adults, Life is a Cabaret, this year.
“Our other big hope, and this is really down the line, as we build all these programs, we’re running out of space to grow,” Penza-Boone wishfully added, “down the line, I think it’s going to be another facility. That’s the dream.”
To celebrate The Nancy and Frederick DeMatteis Arts Academy, WHBPAC is hosting two fundraising events. The first is a Family Masquerade Gala taking place at the Sea Star Ballroom at Atlantis Aquarium in Riverhead on Sunday, October 25th. From 12 to 4 p.m., bring the whole family for an afternoon that will feature dinner, dancing, an expansive Chinese Auction, and aquarium entertainment. On Saturday, November 28th at 7 p.m., WHBPAC is presenting a Holiday Cabaret celebrating its students and faculty, complete with a holiday-themed dance, music and theatrical vignettes.
WHBPAC is located at 76 Main Street in Westhampton Beach. For more information, call 631-288-1500 or visit www.whbpac.org.