Summer arts workshop next week at Brandywine

Published 9:39 am Friday, June 5, 2015

For three years, Lena Miles and August Garritano have been sharing their passions for the arts with the Brandywine community. This year, they want to reach for even greater heights.

“Both coming from this area and both graduating from Brandywine, we wanted to give back to our community,” Garritano said.

Miles and Garritano, both Brandywine alumni, are the co-founders and artistic directors of the Brandywine Performing Arts Workshop, or “PAW.” Starting in 2012, the program has inspired over 90 elementary students over three years to pursue interests in the arts.

“We achieve this goal,” reads the PAW mission statement, “by providing exposure to the performing arts through the disciplines of acting, singing, dancing, musicianship, creativity and personal expression.”

“The arts are essential,” Garritano said. “And I don’t think that that’s just an opinion.”

He fondly recounted memories of watching “The Sound of Music” with his grandmother as one of his earliest exposures to the arts.

“I don’t know if I would still be here today if it wasn’t for the arts,” he said.

Garritano explained that it was the vital importance of the arts in his own life that drove him to start the workshop.

This year, PAW is expanding from one week to two weeks to include not only elementary students, but middle and high school students as well.

“We were inspired by our kids who were too old to do the elementary camp,” Miles said. “The older kids wanted to come back and help.”

Both weeks of the camp will give students extensive instruction in acting, singing, dancing, instrumental music and more.

The camp runs June 8 to 11 for grades 7 to 12 and June 15 to 18 for grades 2 to 6. The registration fee is $45. Scholarships are available for those students who need them.

“Our model is to make [the workshop] as high quality as possible and as affordable as possible,” Garritano said.

There will be community performances by each group of students at the end of their weeks. The grade 7-12 students will perform at 7:30 p.m. on June 11 in the lecture hall, and the grade 2-6 students will perform at 7:30 p.m. on June 18 in the gym.

The workshop is taught by a staff of several current and former Michigan State University, Southwestern Michigan College, and Western Michigan University students with impressive backgrounds in music and theater. Brandywine Community Schools Choir Director Denise Boger is also on staff, instructing and serving as the principal liaison with Brandywine Schools.

Also on staff are Nicole Majewski, manager of DanceSport on the Plaza in Mishawaka, and Vincent Lydell Hicks, a multi-faceted artist making the trip to Brandywine all the way from California.

Majewski, a 2003 graduate of Saint Mary’s College, has danced for 25 years and taught for 13 years. She has competed professionally, dancing everything from tap to hip-hop, jazz to gymnastics. She has taught show choir at Walt Disney World and in Ohio, Illinois and even Amsterdam.

Hicks, an award-winning show choir choreographer, grew up in Detroit and met PAW co-director August Garritano through the Young Americans program, which they both participated in after high school. He currently lives in California and works as an independent contractor, teaching students every day the art of dance, singing, instrumental music and more.

“I’ve seen a noticeable difference in students that choose arts of different forms,” Hicks said. “Instrumental music, especially, has been tremendous in teaching work ethic.”

Both Majewski and Hicks will be assisting the second week and will serve as guest choreographers for that final performance.

Garritano said that, should the camp continue to be successful, he and Miles would consider expanding even more in the future.

“We’ve talked about taking it to other schools,” Garritano said. “I think the arts are essential to critical thinking and getting people to better analyze the world and see it in a different light.”

Currently, there are about 40 students registered in the program. Registration information and further updates can be found on the Brandywine Performing Arts Workshop Facebook page.