CABOT — In an inconspicuous building behind a strip mall in Cabot, children are spending part of their summer vacation in jazz shoes and costumes, practicing choreography and singing together.
Within two weeks, a show is cast, staged, rehearsed and performed as part of the Central Arkansas Performing Arts Academy summer program. The group is in the middle of that production schedule, and the current cast of 21 students will perform Aladdin Jr. on July 18 and 19.
CAPAA opened in 2011 as a nonprofit arts organization after a local family noticed a lack of children’s theater options in town.
Cabot 17-year-old Riley Hoffer has been speaking publicly for years, so he is no stranger to the stage. Riley began an environmental nonprofit called CGKidz when she was 11 years old. With CGKidz, children like Riley can talk about the environment and develop ideas on how to “be green.”
When Riley was 12, she went to New York to speak at a conference on behalf of CGKidz. She went to see Hairspray on Broadway while she was there, and she has been hooked on theater ever since. Unfortunately, she was discouraged at what few options she had in her hometown when it came to theater training.
“There are dance studios, but there was no theater outlet you could come to every day,” she said.
In response to that problem, Riley’s parents — Danelle and Joe Hoffer — decided to create a solution. The Central Arkansas Performing Arts Academy was born, and the upcoming performance of Aladdin Jr. will be the organization’s 20th production.
Danelle, who is executive director for CAPAA, said the academy aims to provide a fun yet productive atmosphere where children can get solid, helpful training in singing, dancing and acting.
“It’s important to us to teach them about all aspects of theater,” Danelle said. “We try to do everything by the books. That way, when they go on to other theaters, whether it be in school or professional, they have what they need to succeed.”
During the summer, CAPAA camps are held during the day Monday through Friday, and specialized singing, dancing and acting classes take place Tuesday and Thursday evenings. Classes and shows continue once school starts, and in August, CAPAA will start a new after-school program called Acting UP! Camp for children in kindergarten through the sixth grade. The program will offer classes for kids from 3:30-6 p.m. Monday through Friday.
For some, theater has been a way to open up. D’Vitrius Shirley-Davie is playing Aladdin in the current production, and he said it is fun for him to be able to be in a show and become someone completely different for a short time.
“I can go on stage and be someone else,” Shirley-Davie said. “Plus, I’ve learned how to make better friends and step out of my comfort zone.”
Jessica Smith, 12, has been in 16 shows with CAPAA. She is one of the narrators in the current production of Aladdin Jr., and she said she has learned a lot from her work with the theater organization.
“I’ve learned that teamwork is the biggest thing you need to have a good show,” she said. “You have to put aside your own stuff for the good of the show.”
Gabi Blatzley, the vocal director at CAPAA, said she is constantly amazed at how young the CAPAA participants are, especially considering how hard they work and what they accomplish.
“It’s nice to see these kids realize their potential,” Blatzley said.
Now that CAPAA has established itself and continues to grow, the organization symbolizes a place where Riley and other theater kids can learn, hang out and make friends while refining their skills in order to follow their dreams. For Riley, those dreams are coming true this summer as she heads to New York to do a workshop production of West Side Story. She plans on auditioning for a spot in the University of Central Florida’s theater program.
“Whatever I end up doing, I want to love whatever I do,” she said.
For more information about CAPAA and to purchase tickets for the upcoming show, visit www.mycapaa.com.
Staff writer Angela Spencer can be reached at (501) 244-4307 or firstname.lastname@example.org.