Something for Everyone at the Performing Arts Series at Johnson County Community College


Whether it’s a school group of excited third-graders absorbing the elegance of a tiered theater for the first time or the chance to experience an art form that spurs curiosity, the Performing Arts Series at Johnson County Community College staff gears substantial programming to arts education and children. “Plus we aim for entertainment too,” says Series General Manager Emily Behrmann.

In late January, Canada’s Royal Winnipeg Ballet brings in Moulin Rouge, which may fit more for tweens and teens. In February, the selection picks up with The True Story of the Three Little Pigs, which is slated for school performances.

As an example, the Harlem Quartet performs Feb. 10 and then this young quartet of stringed musicians will be part of a master class the next day, designed for middle school, high school and older student musicians. Harlem Quartet’s mission is “to advance diversity in classical music while engaging young and new audiences through the discovery and presentation of varied repertoire, highlighting works by minority composers.”

Shrek the Musical comes in Feb. 16 for two performances. Both performances are open to the public. The Swingle Singers, Feb. 24, are another younger vocal group that may be reminiscent of acts found on Glee! The group’s music has a trademark sound and is used frequently on television including the popular music show. Again, the following day, Feb. 25, the members of Swingle Singers will participate in a vocal workshop with students in high school and college. They perform a workshop called “Glee Up Your Choir.” They will offer swing vocal techniques.

“We try to schedule arts education activities as many times as we can with the artists,” Behrmann says. “There are master classes, lectures and demonstrations. Sometimes the events are offsite, but when we consider who to program, we aim to add the educational criteria as much as possible.”

Image-46Further into the spring, Momix, a group aimed at blending comedy, physical theater, and circus, brings in Botanica, a commentary on the state of nature today. The public performances are on April 5 and 6. An additional school show on April 5.  The master class is on April 4.

The Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain is known for engaging the community. They often release a song that they ask area ukulele players to learn the piece and bring their instruments. It becomes a big jam session. Of course, the orchestra offers everything from Tchaikovsky to Nirvana.

The season ends in early June with the Dinosaur Petting Zoo. There’s interactive animatronics which allows interaction for children and adults while going on a journey through prehistoric ages. Art Education Program Director Angel Mercier says the large dinosaur puppets offer the children a chance to learn how they might have been cared for such as feeding and habitat. It’s a rich, artistic background with science and puppets, she says.

Image-47Even a few of the coming events are free to the public. As an example, the Jazz Winterlude, Jan. 18-19, brings in many Kansas City musicians like jazz and blues singer David Basse and his group, plus headliners such as Julian Lage Duo, a young guitar player; Deborah Brown, an international jazz singer; and Eldar Djangirov, Kansas City-raised pianist who was signed to Sony Classical at the age of 17. “There will be lots of styles of music and young musicians will find inspiration. This two-day event really incorporates local professionals and it’s a wonderful opportunity to see how Kansas City has its own jazz sound,” Mercier says. “We want that variety again. We may have one-on-one contact. That’s key for an educational impact too.”

Arts education helps students perceive and think in new ways. “We look at many approaches to a subject. We know there are different ways to reach children and integration is key,” Mercier says. “We want to support teachers and classrooms so we align our tools. When we send evaluations to teachers, we not only ask about the performance, but the support. We value what is going on in the classroom.”

“The arts in and of themselves are an educational activity,” Behrmann says. “We also strive to move our programming in line with the college’s mission to focus on student success, community leadership and an innovative spirit. The college is generous in its help. We show that we are vital here.”

Mercier says the arts support innovation. “First you have to believe in the arts and then you have to get people to participate. That participation includes creative thinking. Even engaging the smallest children is a chance to spur their development in a different way. It’s not just enrichment, but studies have shown that engagement during childhood and teen years proves they will be patrons. We all remember those experiences from our youth; if we are going to grow audiences in the future. Educational opportunities equal audiences 20 years from now.”

Fundamentally, the Performing Arts Series at Johnson County Community College values the arts. Behrmann and Mercier treasure the intrinsic value. Numerous studies point toward a consistent and positive correlation between a substantive education in the arts and student achievement in other subjects and on standardized tests. “In the end, we want to make sure our programming is diverse, probably some of the most diverse in the area,” Behrmann says. “You never know what art will impact a child. We truly want to provide something for everyone in the community.”

Kellie Houx

Kellie Houx is a writer and photographer. A graduate of Park University, she has 20 years of experience as a journalist. As a writer, wife and mom, she values education, arts, family and togetherness.

Leave a Reply