STAR Arts finishes summer 2020 with new productions and formatby Jan Janes on Sep 14, 2020
The STAR Arts Summer 2020 program wrapped its final performances while dealing with the same engagement challenges the schools have faced.
“The story doesn’t change, but the delivery system does,” said Marilyn Abad-Cardinalli, founder of the program, and retired Gavilan College faculty member. “The new direction we knew had to go in, online, we’re doing it faster because of the pandemic.”
In her view, this shift will simply be normal to the four- and five-year-olds coming up. “And storytelling is the basis for what the arts do,” she said.
Some STAR Arts Retrospective
The program was the brainchild of Abad-Cardinalli while she was teaching Theater Arts at Gavilan College. She noted that, back in the 1980s, there were limited theater opportunities other than the college. Students would leave Gilroy after finishing their coursework.
“The Gavilan campus was perfect for a day camp,” she said. Other programs, especially sports, had summer camps. She targeted youth, enrolled kids for four weeks and hired the theater students to teach them.
“We learn by doing,” said Abad-Cardinalli. At the time, she was working at the college while also working with San Jose Parks and Recreation. “I loved listening to and working with kids. I wanted to go into teaching. And I loved the theater.”
STAR kids, as they were known, would rehearse the selected show in the mornings. In the afternoons, they engaged in arts education: theater games, creating skits, theme days and workshops. The original camp presented a full theater production at the end of camp. Later, a video section was added, and STAR kids would finish their camp with a showing of original short films.
As the years progressed and students aged out of summer camp attendance, they returned as STAR leaders. Some continued to return as adults and worked as staff.
Spring STAR delivered programs to Gilroy middle schools
The program moved away from the Gavilan College campus in 2014 and continued to engage youth in theater arts. STAR Arts contracted with area middle schools to offer the program to their students. The program at South Valley Middle School was ready to begin mid-March when shelter-in-place limited face to face meetings.
Former STAR kid and Gavilan alumna Katie Hipol Garcia started in the program in 2000 and transitioned to STAR Arts program coordinator and production director in 2008. During shelter in place, she brought a perspective to the challenges the program was facing, with three distinct vantage points.
“I got to see distance learning as a student, a parent and a teaching artist,” she said. "I had my eye on what worked and what needed solving." She was completing her BA in Theater Arts at San José State, homeschooling her kindergartner after the schools closed in March, as well as teaching in the Spring STAR program.
“I wanted to make sure we were there for the students,” said Hipol Garcia. “I did some Instagram Lives and Zoom artist hangouts. Talking to the kids confirmed that they missed making theater.”
Another former STAR kid, Ethan Chargin started in the program in 2009. He acted in a few roles in the theater program, later switching his focus to the video program. “From that first year, I was absolutely in love,” he said.
A recent GECA/Gavilan College graduate recently transferred as a film major to San Francisco State, Chargin was just transitioning into a staff position as the STAR team began re-envisioning fully virtual delivery.
“This was incredibly exciting,” he said. “I was seeing the summer put together from the other side of things. Better yet, I was part of it.”
“As a staff, we worked together to make STAR online,” said Hipol Garcia. The premise was to have STAR kids meet in small groups on Zoom and rehearse one hour a day, three days a week, for three weeks. The kids could also attended workshops and special event days. In keeping with STAR tradition, the end result of students’ work was streamed live on Zoom for families.
“It captured the creative, collaborative feeling we had at STAR,” she said, “And it still felt like theater.”
The spring pilot curriculum worked well enough, the STAR Arts program used it for the summer program.
Final showcase watch party pulls all the people together
Each family designated an adult as family coach, and once each week a kit of materials was picked up. For the theater STAR kids, the program produced Midsummer Night’s Dream by Shakespeare and Magic to Do from the musical, Pippin. The video STAR kids pitched and produced their own short videos. In addition to theater arts and video training, the program offered shared lunch time creativity and Zoom-tailored games.
“In Magic to Do, the kids wore black tee shirts, white gloves, were taught choreography and did a hand dance,” said Abad-Cardinalli. A video editor compiled the performances of all of the kids into an opening number.
“I was in tears watching the first cut,” she said, describing as unbelievable what they produced.
“From the first reading to the last of a scene from A Midsummer Night’s Dream, these kids blew me away,” said Hipol Garcia. “They dived in with their whole hearts, fearlessly. For a lot of them, this was their first Shakespeare reading.”
“I remember specifically how excited the kids were,” said Chargin. “We gave them the opportunity to pitch the ideas they were asked to think up, and reviewed our week on Fridays as an entire program.”
On Zoom, friends and families of the STAR kids watched the 90-minute production, and the chat box filled with applause. “Then, when the show was over,” said Hipol Garcia, “Everyone turned on their mics and cameras. It was like seeing an audience on the screen.”
“I sensed the parents were now up close and personal while their child was in STAR,” said Abad-Cardinalli. “They watched their kid do this work, parents can have fun and help, and they did it together.”
“We’re finding the new ways to connect,” she continued. “The next few months will be very interesting.”
The summer program hired 15 interns, editors and teaching artists to design and teach youth how to create quality theater and video productions. After 25 years on the Gavilan College campus, and 10 more working in area schools and the community, STAR Arts has plans for the fall and beyond.
“We are working on more virtual programs,” said Hipol Garcia. “We can provide a strong sense of community with young artists, especially during this time!”
Contact STAR Arts for information about how to get involved.