Most moms keep plenty busy coordinating their own children’s busy lives. But Renee Werkheiser, a Scottsdale mother of two, has about 200 additional children on her radar. She’s the founder of an after-school performing arts program called Art and Sol, which includes performing arts classes for the K-12 set that culminate in on-stage performances.
Children participate in show-specific theater classes then work together for several months to create a staged production. Each production features several casts, so every child gets stage time. Children still audition, but everyone gets a role. Past productions have included “Alice in Wonderland,” “Once Upon A Mattress” and more.
Art and Sol’s current production, the musical “Beauty and the Beast JR,” is being performed through Sunday, Jan. 25 at Phoenix Center for the Arts. Children beamed with broad smiles as they took their bows following Thursday’s opening night performance, which was attended mostly by enthusiastic family and friends. Vocals by Claire Novak, who performed the role of Belle, were lovely.
Tickets are $10 each. Members of the public are welcome.
Creating Art and Sol
Werkheiser graduated from the University of Arizona in Tucson and started her teaching career at a performing arts school in California. She taught for five years at Hopi Elementary School, in Phoenix, where she had hoped to start a performing arts program, but there was no funding. She volunteered to help kids put on the musical “Annie.” Parents asked her to do more shows. That was more than a decade ago.
She decided to create an after-school performing arts program and secured space at a local church. The first production was “Highlights from Grease,” performed at Ingleside Middle School in Phoenix. She hired a vocal director, the first of several staff to join Art and Sol. Today, Art and Sol has three locations: Scottsdale, Central Phoenix and the Arcadia neighborhood of Phoenix.
A unique approach
Parents whose children have performed with local community theaters are typically required or encouraged to volunteer for duties such as painting sets, making costumes or working at the box office. Some theaters charge a participation fee—most do not.
Werkheiser saw the need for a different model: one that lets parents pay tuition and drop their kids off for performing arts classes without having to invest a lot of time beyond watching their kids perform on stage.
There’s a unique benefit for kids, too. Children who audition are assured a part, so those who love to be on stage have plenty of opportunities to perform rather than auditioning at community theaters where they may not be cast.
Interested parents can get a good feel for the program by seeing “Beauty and the Beast JR” or the next production, “The Sound of Music.”
Find additional family-friendly performances on the Raising Arizona Kids calendar.