Homer Alaska - Arts

Story last updated at 5:02 PM on Wednesday, October 12, 2011

A show of support for arts in schools

Tonight's performance raises funds for 'easiest program in world to love'

By Michael Armstrong
Staff Writer


Photo by Michael Armstrong, Home

Eddie Wood, teaches Katie Miller a salsa move during a past Artist in the Schools residency at Homer High School.

Did you or your kid learn salsa dancing from Eddie Wood? Make jewelry with Art Koeninger? Create experimental films with Michael Walsh? Make paper casts with Lynn Marie Naden?

Those are some of the 50 artists, writers, dancers and musicians who have taught 1,500 students in the 12 years since Bunnell Street Arts Center has offered Artists in the Schools programs. Coordinating artist residencies in 10 schools on the lower Kenai Peninsula from Anchor Point south, Bunnell brings teachers from Homer and beyond to inspire students in the arts.

Today at 7 p.m. at the Mariner Theatre, Bunnell holds a fundraiser to help what executive director Asia Freeman calls its biggest budget item. It's also a chance to see what Anchorage actors Elizabeth Ware and Mark Robokoff have been doing during their residency this week at Homer High School. Ware and Robokoff perform "War of Wills," a pastiche of scenes from William Shakespeare's plays.

The actors also appear in "Helen," a modern retelling of Euripides' tragic comedy about Helen of Troy. "Helen" shows at 8 p.m. Friday and 3 and 8 p.m. Saturday at Bunnell.

Drawing upon the Alaska State Council on the Arts Talent Bank, Bunnell runs the local Artist in the Schools program. Bunnell brings artists from across Alaska as well as the local area to do one- or two-week units in local schools.

"Of course we want to see as many local artists promoted and employed by the program and also to encourage those community connections," Freeman said.

There's nothing like seeing a kid run up to a local artist at the store and say, "This is my buddy, my friend. I want to be an artist, too," she said.

The annual Artist in Schools budget is about $30,000, Freeman said. With a $10,000 grant from ASCA and another $10,000 in school participation fees, in-kind donations for travel, meals and lodging, the balance of $10,000 comes through fundraisers and donations. A typical residency is $1,000 for 20 hours of class instruction, with the school paying half. Other costs include materials, lodging and transportation.

While a big budget item, "It's also the easiest program in the world to love," Freeman said.

During their residency, Ware and Robokoff have been teaching Greek drama and theater to sophomores at Homer High School. Ware said Tuesday's classes laid out the foundation for Greek theater, but on Wednesday they would teach students about the Greek chorus — not the singing kind, but the talking kind. "We'll get them up on their feet and actually using words," she said.

In tonight's short pastiche of scenes, they'll show how Shakespeare focused on the relationships between men and women. Ware said they'll also talk a bit about Elizabethan England, including the 16th century tradition of male actors playing all roles, including women. Ware and Robokoff give a sense of it with a scene from "Twelfth Night." She plays Viola, disguised as a boy, and Robokoff plays Olivia.

In Shakespeare's day, "It's a boy playing a girl playing a boy," she said of the role of Viola.

They also do a scene from "Richard III."

"(Robokoff) would say it's the most fun he's ever had," she said. "It's beautifully constructed for two actors."

"Helen," written in 2005, updates in a modern setting one of Euripides' lesser known plays, also called "Helen."

"It's not a very good play," she said of the ancient Greek version. "It's a very strange play."

Although it looks at the price of beauty, Ware said of the new "Helen," "It's a very moving account of the futility of war and the terrible effect war has on women."

Euripides' "Helen" is called "a tragic comedy." Ware calls the new "Helen" a "comitragedy."

"It's also a funny play. Believe it or not. It sounds serious," she said.

Freeman said explorations of art like Ware and Robokoff do with Artist in Schools residencies supplement arts instruction that might get dropped with cuts in programs and an emphasis on requirements set by the No Child Left Behind federal mandates.

"Schools typically emphasize math, linguistics and logic," she said. "It's just so exciting to see the ways that artists especially enliven these other learning styles."

Michael Armstrong can be reached at michael.armstrong@homernews.com.