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East Ridge/Loft program aims to grow south Washington County arts community

Amanda Hestwood, an East Ridge High School teacher and Loft Theater director, wants "to grow an art community" in the south Washington County area.

She's off to a good start by giving kids a chance to find out what being on stage is all about.

Youth from every private and public school in the area were immersed in all areas of "the art of theater" all last week in the Loft Theater at East Ridge, with high-schoolers attending morning classes and middle school-age kids in the afternoon.

There was no cost to participants and music, makeup, dance, acting directors, set designers and builders gave their time to the effort, many of them taking vacation to offer their skills, Hestwood said.

All of the 120 kids who attended got a tour of The Loft stage with its cat walks and "fly space," where scenery is stored, showing them the nuts and bolts of how the theater functions including lights and sound board, she said.

The tour was a big hit with the youth, especially Noah Burroughs, of New Life Academy, who attended the classes "to learn and get better." He likes the technical part of theater.

A.J. Hofelman, a Cottage Grove Middle School student, liked the cat walk and is most interested in attending a class on introduction to video.

Most of the youth, such as Cottage Grove Middle School student Elena Double, are interested in the acting side of theater. "I love acting," Double said, "and learning about makeup."

"I like theater and this has been a good opportunity to get tips on auditions," added Lily Piper, a Woodbury Middle School student. "The music part prepares you for the experience."

"I just thought it would be fun," said Abby Feuer, Lake Middle School, who is already taking piano, dance and voice lessons.

Hestwood did some of the teaching herself including getting middle-schoolers involved in an exercise on how actors work in tandem with each other.

After dividing the afternoon class into two groups, she asked them to become imaginary machines by acting out its parts. Kids beeped and whooshed with their voices and made their arms and body's move robotically.

Hestwood stopped them and asked them to connect up with each other by touching or working with the others in their groups.

"You need to find out how what you are doing helps the whole group," she said.

Judy Spooner
Judy Spooner is the longest-serving staff writer at the South Washington County Bulletin. Spooner, who covers education and features in addition to writing a weekly column, has been with the newspaper for over 30 years.
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