A passion for the arts

Educators form non-profit to offer students after-school classes in the arts

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Washougal residents Bridgette McCarthy (left) and Jessica Hatton (right) will appear in, "My Son Pinocchio," at Washburn Performing Arts Center this weekend. They participate in Metropolitan Performing Arts Academy, which is sponsoring the production. The academy offers classes in musical theater, acting, singing and dance, among other activities.

Eighteen months ago, a group of parents and educators, saddened by the lack of arts education in local schools, decided to take matters into their own hands.

From this has come the Metropolitan Performing Arts Academy, a non-profit organization for Vancouver and the surrounding areas. It offers students from elementary through high school opportunities to participate in acting, singing, dance, musical theater, music and art.

The academy students, who hail from Vancouver, Camas, Washougal and other outlying areas, have participated in eight different productions since last April. “My Son Pinocchio,” which will show at Washburn Auditorium in Washougal, will be the ninth show.

“That’s a lot of shows,” Creative Director Noah Scott said. “We have had over 7,000 people in attendance so far.”

The latest production is being held in Washougal to encourage more people from the local area to attend a show and participate in the academy.

“We really want to get into the areas outside Vancouver,” Scott said.

“My Son Pinocchio,” is a twist on the classical tale. It centers around the relationship between Pinocchio and Geppetto.

The opening scene features a regretful Geppetto wondering if he could, “give Pinocchio back,” because he is not telling the truth and is not the perfect child the toymaker envisioned. The musical features two cast members from Washougal. They are fifth-grader Bridgette McCarthy and ninth-grader Jessica Hatton.

McCarthy, who has acted in five prior shows, said she loves meeting new people at the academy and seeing their different talents.

“When I act, I get to show my emotional side,” she said. “It’s really fun.”

Hatton has performed in seven productions prior to Pinocchio, and said she loves the ability to “go big.”

“I can just give it my all,” she said. “I need to be open to new ideas. Acting has been a great opportunity for me. I just love theater.”

Hatton said she isn’t considering it for a career, just as a hobby.

“I don’t see it as a career path, but if a chance comes up, I’ll take it,” she said.

It’s that kind of attitude that Nancy Duncan of Vancouver, who serves as secretary on the Metropolitan board of directors, likes to see.

“I love the energy I see that the kids get from being in the classes and shows,” she said.

“I look around and see a whole group of kids singing and dancing, and that positive energy is magical. I love seeing the children shine like that.”

Duncan joined the board of directors after starting as a volunteer.

Her daughters, ages 14 and 6, are both in the upcoming musical.

Her background is as an educational grant writer, so joining the board at Metropolitan seemed like a great fit.

“A lot of our board members are also educators and we really wanted to bring the performing arts education back to our schools,” she said.

After forming the non-profit, the group hired Scott as its creative director.

He comes from a theater background, having attended the prestigious Piedmont Theater Academy in Piedmont, Calif.

He has appeared in 115 productions, and directed more than 40 musical theater productions.

Before coming to Vancouver, Scott was the executive director of Curtain Call Performing Arts Academy and the Stars School of Fine Arts in California.

“There is a real lack of arts education here (in the Northwest),” he said. “I think it is very sad, but it’s also made my cause very worthwhile.”

He calls his current position a “dream job.”

“The board of directors and staff are just the most amazing people,” he said. “We are so lucky to have the best staff.”

Although his career began with acting, Scott said he has always loved teaching.

“I enjoyed performing, but it was always my goal to be a director,” he said. “I acted because I figured that in order to be a great director, I needed to be a great performer.”

His favorite part of Metropolitan is the students.

“I’ll do whatever it takes for the kids,” he said. “I’m hoping that as Metropolitan grows, we can grow farther east as well.

“I’ve really enjoyed working with (Gordon) Washburn at Washougal High School. He has been great to our organization and to the kids.”