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January 13, 2014

ArtSPARK getting Santa Clara County kids fired up about live theatre!

Sal Pizarro, Vallejo Times Herald
There's nothing wrong with a third-grade education. At least not for the third-graders I joined last week to watch a streamlined version of San Jose Rep's "The Snow Queen."

They were a fraction of the 9,500 third-graders from Santa Clara County flowing into the Rep last week and this week for ArtSPARK, a program in its third year that introduces elementary school students to live performances.

Lee Kopp, who directs the program for Symphony Silicon Valley, says his job sometimes feels like putting together a jigsaw puzzle, making sure buses and teachers are in the right place at the right time. But it's worth it, he says, to watch the kids -- including some who've never been to a professional theater before -- walk eyes wide, mouth agape into the palatial California Theatre or the Rep's ultracool Blue Box.

In March, fourth-graders will get a taste of the symphony and San Jose Taiko, and the goal is to eventually get all third- through sixth-grade students to a live performance every year. The shows are geared toward the students and often provide a launchpad for art, music and writing assignments.

For "The Snow Queen," the Rep whittled down a two-hour-plus musical to less than an hour, with just five actors playing 23 roles. The students seemed entranced by the show, and afterward the cast shared some behind-the-scenes stage magic secrets about lighting, sound, costumes and props. When they opened it up for questions, we all were reminded that this was, still, a third-grade audience.

"Did she really kiss you?" one boy asked.

Bay Area actor Tim Homsley, who plays the male lead, laughed. "It's not the worst part of my job," he said. I have a feeling that boy might agree in a few years.

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