Ticket program ignites Centre County teens’ passion for the performing arts

It might have been your first ballet, the sound of an orchestra filling an auditorium or the clarity and pitch of that one perfect note. When did the performing arts begin to weave its essence into your life? In the State College area, a community brimming with performing arts venues and opportunities, some children and teenagers never get the chance to experience the performances that others take for granted.

“Debbi,” as she would like to be called, used to be one of those teens. This year, through the Center for the Performing Arts at Penn State’s Faith, Hope and Love Ticket Program, she attended her first concert. She can’t help but beam when she talks about it.

“To be my age and say I went to see a string quartet -- awesome,” she said. “And I enjoyed it!”

Debbi lives at one of several State College group homes for displaced teens operated by the Centre County Youth Services Bureau. During its 2013–14 season, the Center for the Performing Arts partnered with the bureau to begin a ticket-sharing program with three of the homes -- Youth Haven, Stormbreak and Stepping Stone. The program gives the teens the opportunity to imagine what’s possible by opening doors to the arts.

“It was all inspired by a desire to reach out to the displaced teens in the community and help them to find a meaningful connection to the arts within their lives,” said Laura Sullivan, director of marketing and communications at the Center for the Performing Arts. “The program is also designed to offer groups who would otherwise not be able to attend performances, due to their programs’ financial constraints, the option to attend.”

Through Faith, Hope and Love, teens this season received tickets to Compagnie Käfig’s performance of the dances “Correria” and “Agwa,” Brentano String Quartet’s all-Beethoven concert, Moscow Festival Ballet’s “Swan Lake” and the Count Basie Orchestra and Lionel Loueke Trio jazz concerts.

Debbi and several others also participated in Artistic Viewpoints, an informal pre-concert discussion with the Brentano musicians.

Omair Khan, an AmeriCorps member at Youth Haven, said getting ready to attend a performance has also become an event for the teens.

“They had a fashion show,” he said. “There is interest and interaction with something new, to dress up and look forward to the next event.”

The mission at the three homes is to give at-risk and displaced teens a place to go where they feel safe, secure and validated. They’re taught life skills they might not be learning at home, including managing finances, laundry, basic cooking, the importance of taking responsibility and doing chores.

“Structure and stability are the two biggest dynamics of why kids come here -- family dynamics, having those day-to-day experiences, a family dinner that some take for granted,” said Vanessa Baronner, Youth Services Bureau program director. “There’s no structure (at home).”

Many of the teens weren’t previously learning life skills because parents or guardians are often working long hours and don’t have time, Baronner explained.

“This is where the non-resident services come in,” Khan said. “You don’t have to be a resident to utilize the services.”

A number of teens visit after school or on weekends to attend workshops and group sessions.

Some of the teens use arts appreciation and their own artistic talents to express their feelings—often shared more easily through music or poetry—when they can’t find the words through discussion. The activity room includes an electronic keyboard, a guitar, places to draw and paint.

“It’s therapeutic for a kid to be able to journal, read, listen to music,” Baronner said. “It’s just their way of coping a lot of times.”

One of the girls won an award for her poem after she was encouraged to submit it to a magazine. Another teen had a dream come true by receiving a ticket to “Swan Lake.”

“She first had only heard (the music of) ‘Swan Lake’ when she was young, fell in love with it and began to play the cello because of it, even though she had never seen [the ballet],” Khan said. “Her dream is to now go to music school. She is struggling with how to tell her parents and is hoping by seeing this show it will spark the conversation.”

Debbi, also a musician, plays the drums and the guitar. She also loves science and would like to combine the two.

“I hope to do neuroscience research within the arts and study how the brain works to process music and art experiences,” she said.

The ticket program will continue in the Center for the Performing Arts 2014–15 season with a target of including more opportunities for teens. 

“A goal is to partner with individuals or business owners, who see the value in making this transformative connection for youth in our community, and set up a fund that could assist and help continue to grow the program,” Sullivan said.

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Last Updated April 07, 2014