Our Views: Something's special about Janesville theater
November 21, 2018
The Janesville Gazette
Anybody who has attended a musical at Parker High School or play at the Janesville Performing Arts Center knows this town has a passion for theater.
That passion also explains why JPAC and ARISEnow raised in a flash $450,000 toward a $500,000 goal to replace JPAC’s decades-old production equipment and grow its youth programs.
The project attracted two large gifts, $250,000 from Dennis and Liz Hansch and $200,000 from the Hendricks Family Foundation, a powerful statement about theater’s importance and future in this community.
Class sizes for JPAC’s summer acting workshops have nearly tripled over the past few years, growing from 20 to 70, JPAC Executive Director Nathan Burkart said. The donations will allow JPAC to create a dedicated space for youth acting and performance troupes, along with summer workshops and the youth choir program.
The community’s enthusiasm for theater is palpable at any one of Jim Tropp’s productions at Parker High School. If you attended “The Little Mermaid” this past week or a previous Tropp musical, you get the sense Janesville is in the midst of a theatrical golden age.
Tropp gets the most from his entire cast. Every aspect of these shows—from the marketing to the set quality to the choreography—reveals a healthy obsession for detail. The actors might be high-schoolers, but their performances feel more professional than a city of 65,000 ought to expect. This professionalism showed, for instance, in “The Little Mermaid” cast’s ability to make riding Heelys—sneakers that double as roller skates—look easy. They zipped and zoomed across the stage as if they’ve been on Heelys since they were toddlers.
A perusal through “The Little Mermaid” playbill makes clear Parker theater isn’t merely some after-school club. Many of the nearly 50 performers have been singing and acting since they were little kids, and one the show’s stars, Addison Schuh (Ariel), even attended New York University and Florida State summer programs for musical instruction. They take this seriously, like we think of athletes competing in high school sports.
In recognizing the depth of talent in Parker’s theater program, it’s little wonder JPAC and ARISEnow were able to win such large gifts. While JPAC and ARISEnow aren’t part of Parker High School, many future Parker students will likely hone their acting and singing skills at JPAC.
It’s difficult to quantify the economic impact of Janeville’s theatrical productions, but judging from the sold-out shows, it’s not a trivial amount. And as the downtown area continues to flourish through its revitalization plan known as ARISE, JPAC’s importance will only grow.
What makes Janesville’s theater scene so impressive isn’t so much the raw talent (though there’s plenty of that) but the dedication toward realizing the full potential of that talent. Many communities have decent theater programs, of course, but few stand out like Janesville’s.
And for that, we’re grateful this Thanksgiving.