The Westhampton Beach Performing Arts Center (WHBPAC) is a vital part of the East End community. In addition to performances and concerts in the theater, they also offer the Arts Academy, with programs and classes that aim to, in their words, “ignite the creative spirit in young people, spark a love of learning, and reinforce important life skills through the arts.”
Hamptons.com recently sat down with Kristen Poulakis, Director of the Arts Academy, about her work and their children’s programs.
What’s your background? How did you come to do this work?
I went to school for music therapy and vocal performance. I attended the Boston Conservatory and Berklee College of Music. I’m a vocalist who has been trained in all styles; I love different music languages. I’ve taught voice for over 15 years, as well as many forms of dance and have had two of my own theater companies who have performed at the Vail Levitt Theater in Riverhead before I came to WHBPAC. Julienne (Penza Boone, WHBPAC’s Executive Director) heard about me and thought I’d be a good fit here. This will be my 7th year as a teaching artist and 3rd year here on the faculty.
Do you have programs for a range of age groups?
Yes. For kids in kindergarten and first grade we have Little Players. This fall we’re doing “Mini Mozarts in the Jungle.” The Elementary School Musical Theater Troupe is for grades 2 to 5, and this fall that group is doing “Jungle Book Kids.” In October we’ll have a Middle School Musical Theatre Troupe for grades 6 to 8 and they’ll be doing “Fiddler on the Roof.” And there are also programs for high school students in grades 9 to 12. In summer we have 7 weeks of camps.
All of these groups put on full productions, with props, sets and costumes – we produce everything for every production. Every semester we do all new shows.
The WHBPAC is doing more programming now than ever before. We realize the importance of theater and music education and its impact on our community; there are 150 people kids and adults in the Arts Academy now. We love that we have been able to impact so many people.
Do you also have programs for teenagers and young adults here?
We do! One is Teen Musical Theater for grades 9 to 12. Currently we’re producing 42nd Street. We also have Rock Band 101 for teenagers. Our first rock band, En Fuego, stayed together after the program and won the Southampton Youth Bureau’s Battle of the Bands for two consecutive years. In addition, we offer a music and dance program called Upbeat, which is for young adults with disabilities. In addition to our classes we offer kids 5-18, we also offer classes and performances for adults! Tappy Hour, Singing Songwriting Circle and Melodies and Memories for those 65 and better!
Do you create everything for every program here? Do you have help?
Yes, we have the best, in the field, professional teaching artists who are our music directors, choreographers and directors. Justin Harris, our Arts Academy Manager, handles communications and he’s also a teaching artist. He will be directing “Fiddler on the Roof.” Justin and I produce all of our shows and sometimes direct them. We wear all types of hats and are fortunate to have great teaching artists to assist in our Arts Academy Mission.
Were you able to stay open during Covid?
Yes. For a time, we pivoted to Zoom classes. And because Broadway was shut down as well, we were able to hire top-notch talent such as Bryce Pinkham from Gentleman’s Guide To Love and Murder to teach a Masterclass. Once we opened the theatre again, everyone wore masks, and during that time we made lemonade out of lemons and worked more on body expression instead of facial expressions as well as trying to master emoting and projection because as you can imagine, it was hard to sing and talk through a mask. It’s great to see the kids’ faces again!
For more information on the Westhampton Beach Performing Arts Center’s programs for children and young adults, please visit their website, whbpac.org