Several Godwin students took part in a program called Live Art: Tree of Life last month put on by the School of the Performing Arts in the Richmond Community (SPARC).

The program took place over winter break with some surprising special guests joining the Godwin students on stage, including musicians Jason Mraz, Christina Perri, and more.

The students in SPARC were joined on stage at the sold out show by internationally acclaimed artists Mraz, Perri, fellow musician k.d. lang, and Academy Award-Nominated actor Richard Jenkins, among several other artists who worked with the students on their performance skills.

Godwin seniors Bethany Johnson, Claire Foster, JC Wright, Madison Beale, Kenneth Williams, and Kaitlin Williams all participated in the 11 month-long SPARC program whose final production was shown at the Landmark Theater on Dec. 22. They also collaborated with the Richmond Symphony Youth Orchestra, Sound Sensations, Dreamers Theater, and Minds in Motion during the performance.

Mechanicsville-native Mraz is an alumnus of the SPARC program, and worked with them when he attended Lee Davis High School. Although the Live Art program was not yet founded when he was part of the program, he accepted the invitation to rejoin them on stage.

“Working with Jason Mraz was really intimidating, but he did a really good job at making us feel comfortable on stage,” Johnson said.

The Live Art program provides an opportunity for young people with and without disabilities to participate in performing arts in a supportive environment. Their mission is to “inspire young people to reach their full potential not just on stage, but in life with confidence, character, and responsibility,” according to the show’s program.

Since last year, the program’s attendance has doubled to close to 200 students, with around half of the students having disabilities.

“My favorite part about the Live Art classes is that the groups are all really friendly and the teachers aren’t critical, they aim for the students to have fun and do what they love,” said Foster.

Live Art provides several different classes for artistic expression, including singing, painting, spoken word poetry, technical visual design, musical instrumentation, acting, and more. Featured in the program were the Dancing Fingers, Spoken Word, Falling Down, Wrap It Up, Chamber Ensemble, Ukulele Choir, Singing Hands, Modern Movement, Mimes, and Human Story.

Foster was part of the mime group controlling the puppets on stage while the narrator, Jenkins, told various stories about different aspects of life, such as acceptance, self-esteem, and friendship.

Johnson and Wright were both part of the Chamber Ensemble band, and additionally, Wright helped lead and teach the classes for the Ukulele Choir.

“Teaching the Ukulele Choir was challenging because teaching an instrument to so many people can be difficult, but it worked out almost perfect for the show and the kids loved it,” Wright said.

The show included many things that made it very unique, such as blindfolded finger painting to music from Mraz, a sign language choir singing along to certain songs, and puppet show interludes that told inspiring and thoughtful moral stories.

With Live Art, SPARC aims to “create a model that can be replicated in other communities and establish a baseline of knowledge and techniques for children with special needs on which project partners can build in future years,” according to the show’s program.

Live Art classes are tuition-free due to the overwhelming community support for the program, and SPARC hopes to keep it that way for the years to come. More information on the programs can be found at http://www.sparconline.org .

“The best part about Live Art and SPARC in general is that it focuses on the learning process instead of the final product, so all of the students have a valuable and fun experience instead of stressing out about looking perfect on stage,” Johnson said.

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