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It came to Erin Thomas-Foley in a dream. Thomas-Foley, the education director for the School of the Performing Arts in the Richmond Community, envisioned a large show featuring young people of differing abilities. When she mentioned the concept to new executive director Ryan Ripperton, he seized on the idea of an all-star collaborative performance that resulted in "Live Art." Held in June 2012, the show was a sold-out success at the Carpenter Theatre with a dazzling array of talent that included SPARC alum and Grammy winner Jason Mraz. A documentary about the show is in post-production. This year, the Dec. 22 concert moves to the larger Landmark Theater with another star-studded array of performers, including Mraz and k.d. lang, thanks to the show's musical director Daniel Clarke who tours with lang. Also new this year is the "Live Art Tree Pal Book." The book will include portraits of participants by Dean Whitbeck and student-written poems. Here's a sneak peek at some of the portraits.
Michael Johnson (student)
Johnson, 20, always has enjoyed singing in school choirs, but now he's also getting a chance to dance and to play the ukulele. Last year, he had friends who participated in "Live Art," and their experience prompted him to get involved this year. "Michael looks forward to [rehearsals]," his mother, Melanie, says. "He's grown socially. He's more open, more expressive. It's just been great." A 2011 graduate of Northstar Academy, Johnson attends classes at J. Sargeant Reynolds Community College.
Maxie Broening (student)
Amy Corning attended 2012's "Live Art" with her twin 12-year olds, Maxie and Alex, who attend the Sabot School at Stony Point. Seeing so many young people singing, moving and creating interested the often shy, though musical, youngsters. "I like the feeling of togetherness when you support everyone and everyone supports you," Maxie says. "Live Art" has carried over to other parts of their lives, too, says Corning. Maxie has become very interested in autism. For a science paper this semester, he researched the brain structure of people with Asperger syndrome
Charlie Mingroni (instructor)
Last December, Mingroni ran into fellow Longwood University alum Erin Thomas-Foley in New York City. He had been in Los Angeles for five years after successful cancer treatment in Richmond. Using her persuasive enthusiasm, Thomas-Foley brought Mingroni into the "Live Art" fold. He instructed students in the classes for "Rap It Up," "Falling Down" and "Human Story." Mingroni recalls that when he underwent outpatient chemotherapy, he was treated in the pediatric oncology unit. "The kids there, some of whom were worse off than me, gave me more than I ever could give them, and the same goes for ‘Live Art.'
Becky Ogburn (student)
When SPARC sent a message to the Northstar Academy asking about students interested in participating in the first "Live Art," Elaine Ogburn signed up her daughter, now age 18 and in 12th grade there. "I was not at all anticipating the incredible experience it would be for her," Ogburn says. Becky describes her previous musical experience as "Christmas musicals and church." She especially enjoys the sign language classes for interpreting the songs. The class for the "Falling Down" piece, about autumn leaves, involves painting the leaves and making props. "She really enjoys being part of a team that's building something bigger," her mother says.
Willie Hinton (instructor)
A choreographer, instructor and former School of Richmond Ballet teaching artist, Hinton moved to Raleigh, N.C., after the first "Live Art." But Erin Thomas-Foley wanted his continued involvement. Hinton drove to Richmond every third Sunday to rehearse the "Human Story" and "Distance" segments. The first involves structured improvisation, and the young performers must maintain focus because they don't know what's coming next. "But they also learn that the person beside them may interpret it differently — there's no right or wrong way to move." "Distance" involves a duet between Hinton and former Richmond Ballet dancer Danaë Carter while Jason Mraz and Christina Perri sing, and young dancers Brenda T. Hayes and Toney Robinson mirror the adults.