Metropolitan Performing Arts (MPA) was first established as a 501(c)(3) in the fall of 2009 when residents of southwestern Washington noticed a lack of education in the performing arts within the Vancouver School District.
“What started as a traveling band that performed at places like Zoo Lights, Jantzen Beach Mall and community nursing homes has now morphed into a black box theater performance venue, a theater community and academy with year-round training and performance opportunities,” said Kristin Heller, artistic and educational director of Metropolitan Performing Arts.
Heller said MPA staged its first musical “Bye Bye Birdie” in April 2010 at Fort Vancouver High School. Since then, MPA has produced over 50 productions in the Greater Vancouver/Portland area, including The Brunish Theatre, Washington State School for the Blind, Vancouver School of Arts and Academics, Triangle! Camas Productions and High School. In 2016, Heller said Barbara Richardson had been hired as the organization’s executive director. In 2019, MPA moved from Schell Studio to its current location on East Mill Plain Boulevard. The current location has four classrooms and a black box theater. Heller was hired as artistic and educational director in 2022 after Richardson stepped down as executive director.
According to Heller, MPA’s mission is: “To enrich our community by nurturing a lifelong passion and appreciation for the performing arts through educational and performance opportunities. We do this by involving, cultivating, nurturing and improving. Our vision: to be a house where everyone is seen, heard and valued through theater and the performing arts. »
Heller said the theme for Season 13 of MPA was “The Power Within, Stories of Self Acceptance”. They have three community theater productions, three mainline productions, a teen conservatory production, and four Junior Broadway productions centered around this theme. Heller said MPA also offers performance-based courses and technique-based courses. Performance-based classes result in a performance at the end of term, and these classes do not open for enrollment until the beginning of term and include the Off Broadway and Broadway Junior series. Technique-based courses offer young people the opportunity to become accomplished musical theater performers and can be enrolled at any time during the term.
Students can practice acting, dance and music to develop the skills essential to becoming a “triple threat,” Heller said. MPA has a Technical Theater program that allows students to directly shadow one of the organization’s professional designers as a performance unfolds. They also offer classes in stage combat, improvisation, makeup design, playwriting, directing, and more, including a brand new class called Cirque Nouveau, where students work with fabrics. aerials, slacklines, lyra/aerial hoop, acrobatics, clowns and more. MPA also offers a wide range of private lessons in theatre, dance, singing, piano and guitar.
Heller said a small portion of the MPA’s budget comes from ticket sales and a larger portion of the annual budget comes from academy courses. The rest of their budget comes from donations, grants, bequests and sponsorships.
“We could not exist without the generosity of our community,” she said.
From its beginnings as a stand-alone performance group that only had classes based on the show they were doing at the time, MPA has grown tremendously. They now offer classes that students of all skill levels can take – they don’t even have to be in a show. Heller said they have grown from a company that was all parent volunteers to one that has 40% community volunteers. MPA also now has its own space with its own theatre.
“We were never able to plan a full year in advance because we were always relying on finding our spaces,” Heller said. “This year we finally got a season announcement and we can start selling season tickets. With our own space, we are now seeing increased visibility. We have gone from contract employees to one full-time employee and two part-time employees (added this year). Originally, there were four employees. We now have 16 contract teachers from the local community, all arts professionals and all wonderful.
Just before the COVID-19 pandemic hit, Heller said they were working on a show, “Into the Woods.” When the pandemic hit, she said it was opening night and the show never played. It wasn’t just a financial blow to MPA, as their ticket sales normally pay for the show’s licenses and creative staff, but Heller said it was “a blow to our hearts as well.”
“Imagine a project that you’ve worked so hard on for three months, that you’re really proud of, that you’ll never see,” she said. “No parent could be proud of their children’s performances, no friend could applaud the audience, and no community received inspiration, delight, wonder or storytelling. Some of the students were graduates high school and it was their last show with MPA, some community members were moving away and wouldn’t be coming to the area to play with us in the near future.
On top of all that, Heller said all classes were online and they adapted like all theater artists learn to do. She said they immediately noticed a drop in signups. Children who had poor Wi-Fi or no internet at home could no longer participate. She said all of their students have encountered additional challenges and the anxiety that change brings, especially students with neurodivergence, ADHD and autism. Some have had to discontinue their classes entirely because of the stress and anxiety this change has caused.
Also during the pandemic, Heller said teachers need to be laid off or learn completely new skills like audio engineering and video editing. She said these teachers did most of this extra work on a voluntary basis because there was no extra money to pay for the extra work.
“Classes continued to shrink, but we had students who needed to be in class,” Heller said. “They needed to keep learning and doing theatre. We carried on so they had a safe space to continue creating and being inspired in a world that seemed crazy.
When discussing why AMP is important to the community, Heller said she could really sum it up in one word: hope.
“I could stop there,” she said. “Theatrical and artistic education gives us hope for the future. We teach skills like self-confidence, public speaking and leadership. We also teach awareness, compassion, creativity, passion and drive. Children working on shows work as a team for three months to create and complete a final project for the world to see. They must work together. They learn together and struggle together. The theater is an outlet. It’s a way to tell stories of struggle, happiness, inspiration and disaster. We discover the world through the arts. Diversity of the arts. Acceptance and individuality of the arts. When I see the work that students, volunteers, and community members do here at MPA, I feel hopeful.
To learn more about Metropolitan Performing Arts and how you can help support the organization, visit their website at Metropolitanperformingarts.org.