OLEAN, NY – As Shakespeare wrote: “All the world's a stage.”
Thus, the City of Olean's Youth Bureau and Recreation Department has set its Summer Arts Program, “Arts and Science Through Theatre,” in Oak Hill Park and designated the Washington Street Theatre across the street as its rain site.
The program, scheduled for weekday afternoons from 1 to 3, begins July 5 and ends Aug. 4. Children attending do not have to sign up beforehand nor will they be required to attend on a regular basis.
“We normally end up with about 60 or 70 that come on and off during the summer,” program co-director McKenzie Forrest said. “Some will come for just a day or two, some come for the whole time and some come just for a week.”
Participants will learn how to use a compass, will do a treasure and scavenger hunt in the park, make volcano and lava lamps and puppets and mummies and perform karaoke and dance. They will also do a little play in the park, practice with scripts and learn about lighting and sound systems.
Week by week, according to Forrest, campers will have the advantage of following set topics.
The first week they will focus on getting-to-know-you activities. Next will come science, theater, history, art and more. Forrest noted this program change from previous years allows participants to “come and go and still get the full experience.” In the past, she added, they bounced from topic to topic.
The Summer Arts Program expects an increase in participants this summer because the William O. Smith Recreation Center’s pool is closed for renovations. Swimming had been a big summer activity for Olean youths, Forrest said.
“We have similar activities as the STAR Program, such as science, arts, engineering, technology and math and we tend to get some of the same kids, but they are two different programs,” Forrest, who runs the Summer Arts Program with Paul Wenke, noted.
The STAR Program begins July 10 and, like the Summer Arts Program, ends Aug. 4. Both programs provide participants free lunch at noon. Unlike Summer Arts, STAR asks its participants to miss as few sessions as possible since the end result will be an Aug. 4, 7 p.m., performance of the Emmy Award-winning “School House Rock Live!”
STAR, scheduled for 9 a.m. until noon Mondays through Fridays at Olean High School, is open to children in grades pre-K through 8. Participants will be divided by grade levels. For instance, the children who are in pre-K, in kindergarten and grade 1 are grouped together for activities such as art lessons and rhythm band.
Participants in grades 2 to 4 will have rotations of eight activities throughout the summer -- including swimming and smart brains games that focus on food and nutrition.
And participants in grades 5 and above get to chose two classes daily -- and choices range from poetry and visual art to sewing to dancing to videography to synchronized swimming.
Among STAR guest instructors will be engineers from local industries teaching robots and editors from the Olean Times Herald teaching newspaper writing. Officials from the Cattaraugus County Health Department will come in to teach about nutrition and creating healthy meals, proper washing of hands and safe handling of food.
Independent reading also will be an important component of the STAR Program. Every day, the students will get the chance to do some reading and to write their names and the names of books they have completed on adding machine tape across the front of the high school stage.
“The idea is, at the end, we should have a mile’s worth of books that the kids have read,” Nick Patrone, longtime STAR program director, said.
Patrone and other STAR program faculty will assign participants to roles in "School House Rock Live!" rather than having them audition. Then the faculty will work with every child, taking their skill sets into consideration.
“The children also help create the sets used in the production,” Patrone said. “The art department creates all the pieces for the production, and then the older children do the art work, paint sets and do all the graphics.”
This will be the third summer Julia Rakus, a rising senior at Olean High School, will be working behind the scenes with the stage crew to help with the production. When she is not working backstage during the period of the day dedicated to stage, she will help teach the students the music and songs that they will be performing and will work with them on blocking, choreography and acting.
“I have very fond memories of being one of the little kids running around on the stage being instructed and now it’s kind of funny to be in the opposite role and being the one helping and instructing,” Rakus said.
This year, the STAR Program expects an increase over the 218 children who participated last year because the Olean Area YCMA is planning to bring part of its summer program into STAR.
Further information may be obtained on the STAR Program by calling (716) 375-8031 and on the Summer Arts Program by calling the recreation department at (716) 376-5698.