PUBLISHED: 5:16 PM on Wednesday, February 20, 2008
Glacier Valley Elementary sets sights for Washington D.C
It's not every day that 35 kids from an elementary school get to fly to Washington D.C together to perform a play at the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts.

Fourth and fifth graders from Glacier Valley Elementary are now entering their second week of rehearsals to prepare for just that.

To prepare for that performance of "The Tide and the Tempest" in March the kids are learning both Shakespeare and Tlingit expressions.

Naomi Judd Photo
  Director Ryan Connaro leads Glacier Valley students in practice of native movement in preparation for the Tides and the Tempest
This unique play was written by Juneau playwright and theatre artist Dave Hunsaker and intertwines Shakespeare's "The Tempest" with the traditional Tlingit story of Naatsilenei's creation of Keet Shagoon, the killer whale. The play was adapted into a children's version by Hunsaker and artist-in-residence Ryan Connaro who is directing the play. The play was performed for adults by "Theatre in the Rough" several years ago.

"We didn't change that much for the students. They're really doing a great job taking on Shakespeare's language. We aren't translating it to modern English or anything like that," said Connaro. The students practice daily, working on scripts, songs of native influence, and dances composed of both Shakespearian and Tlingit movement.

"The play is told in parallel so there will be a scene from tides and a scene from tempest, and then the two main characters of the play come together at the beginning of the play and at the end," said teacher, librarian and stage manager, Susan Sielbach as she helped the students in creating the beautiful native button blankets.

The button blankets, used as costumes in the play, are adorned with native emblems of eagles, or ravens and even a rare sea lion. The students have also been hard at work painting the four different backdrops for the set, which were designed by Sitka artist Robert Hoffman.

Naomi Judd Photo
  Director Ryan Connaro leads fourth and fifth grade students in dance movement of Shakesperian era infulence.
The students will be in Washington D.C for a week, performing at the Kennedy Center March 14 and also at the National Museum of the American Indian at the Smithsonian, in appreciation of the play's native content, March 15.

The entire trip and two performances were made possible by Glacier Valley Elementary receiving the Kennedy Center "Creative Ticket National Schools of Distinction Award." Glacier Valley School was one of five schools in the country to receive the award and the first ever in Alaska to receive it.

The play is the latest creation of a process that began in 2004 when Lorrie Heagy created the "Art is Elementary Program," which over the years has introduced more aspects of art to the school's students.

"The award is really for the school's program at large and the award includes an invitation to come and perform in D.C. and so the school basically had to choose what to present there," Connaro said.

"They chose this play, and I think theatre is a nice medium because it can incorporate visual art, dance, music and performing arts."

Such an endeavor includes so much preparation and planning not only in preparing to perform, but also in fundraising. The school has been very successful calling on local contributors. Katrina Laneville has lead the fundraising effort to make it possible for the students travel to Washington D.C.

"We started hitting the fundraising really hard in October of 2007," said Laneville, "We have done bake sales, bingo, selling calendars for the school, there was a teacher who has donated proceeds from selling note cards and regular donations of course."

There was also "drop and shop" night where people could drop their kids off for babysitting for the evening, holiday CD's donated from Taku105 and KJNO, a Luau which raised about $10,000, a calendar sale at the public market, and a winter concert.

"Not to mention all of the local artists and businesses that have donated items for the silent auction we are going to have on the 25th."

The students have raised $55,000 toward the $65,000 needed for the trip.

Parents and teachers agree that the experience will no doubt provide the opportunity of a lifetime for many of the students.

"Some kids have traveled, but some have never even left Juneau and I think for some of them it truly is a once in a lifetime opportunity for them to go, so I'm really excited about that," said Connaro.

Directors Connaro and Heagy lead the kids in bold rehearsals, encouraging them to project their voices, define their dances and most of all give a show that is full of life. Anticipation of Washington D.C lingers behind the students faces as they sing with eyes darting with excitement.

"The most challenging thing for me artistically, will be preparing them and ourselves for what it takes to jump from one performance base to another.

"We will have to adapt to differences in space, so that is one of the things I am looking ahead to prepare them for. But these guys are really on the ball and really resilient, I think they are going to rise to that challenge," said Connaro.

The Art is Elementary website can be viewed at

There will be a sendoff performance of the play March 10, 7 p.m., JDHS Auditorium.

Inquiries about the performances and donations can be made by calling Glacier Valley Elementary at 463-1801.