Civic Theatre Partnership Gives Students Exceptional Arts Opportunity

Shortly after Gabriel “Gabe” Buskard started second grade, he began losing interest in school. His parents knew something wasn’t right. Gabe is smart and an active learner at home, so what was going on?

“We have four children and he liked school the least, so we knew something was wrong when such an intellectual child didn’t want to go to school,” said Gabe’s mom, Beth. “Gabe is a creative learner, so it was really tough for him to sit all day in a traditional classroom without exposure to a more creative learning atmosphere.”

The Buskard family knew the environment wasn’t bringing out the best in Gabe, so they enrolled him at Coit Creative Arts Academy.

Before coming to Coit, Gabe had little opportunity to be involved in the arts at school. The only performance offered was the annual Christmas program. At Coit, Gabe is involved in music, has a dance class every week, plays Simba in the school’s spring performance of The Lion King and has a part in the Grand Rapids Civic Theatre’s production of Freckleface Strawberry.

The Civic role is a result of a partnership between the Civic Theatre and Coit Creative Arts Academy. In 2011, several community leaders began a conversation about a way to reach more Grand Rapids Public Schools students with the Civic’s afterschool theatre classes. Coit School was a natural choice both because of its arts theme and proximity to the Civic Theatre. Partnering with the Civic’s School of Theatre Arts was an easy decision for Coit. Civic’s school is a nationally recognized theatre education program, uniquely designed to teach both front stage and back stage theatre skills. The partnership was a win/win for everyone involved.

“As a community theatre, Civic Theatre’s focus is on entertaining, educating and engaging West Michigan in live theatre,” said Nancy Brozek, director of development and community relations at the Grand Rapids Civic Theatre. “The partnership with Coit Creative Arts Academy is a perfect pairing benefiting Grand Rapids Public Schools students seeking an art infused education. We work together to ensure there is a programming progression that increases students’—and their families’—appreciation of, and access to, live theatre.”

In 2012, the program was finalized and ready for students to enroll for fall of that year. Classes are once a week, with bussing and snacks provided. GRPS students in third through fifth grade join students from throughout West Michigan to attend the classes, getting them out of their comfort zones and giving them an opportunity to meet new people.

“We see our kids bloom over the school year thanks to this partnership. Students that start out shy and unsure of themselves, by the end of the year, they are auditioning for and earning roles in our annual spring musical.”

-Dave Dublis, creative arts specialist, Coit Creative Arts Academy

Because of these classes, Gabe Buskard was inspired and encouraged by his teachers to try out for Freckleface Strawberry. He got the part of Jake, a kind, smart and loyal character Gabe says he can relate to. After his performance with the Grand Rapids Civic Theatre and in The Lion King, Gabe says the next role he has his eyes on is the lead in The Neverending Story.

“I like to act because I get to be someone else for a little while, and that helps me understand others better,” Gabe said. “Art helps me express myself and helps me relax and calm down. It keeps my mind off of other negative things.”

The Coit/Civic Theatre program is made possible through a donor advised grant from the Grand Rapids Student Advancement Foundation.

Freckleface Strawberry runs from April 22 – May 1. Individual tickets are $10-$16 and are available through the Grand Rapids Civic Theatre’s box office at www.grct.org.

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