“The best thing about participating in theater work,” said Robert Brase, the Oceanside School District’s director of fine arts, “is that it crosses so many aspects of life” — a sentiment many in Oceanside’s local arts scene shared.
The district’s Thespian Honor Society staged a performance of Lewis Carroll’s “Alice in Wonderland” on Jan. 6, after its opening night on Friday was canceled in the wake of Thursday’s snowstorm. The show — directed by student Tara Podias — made the most of choreography and costumes to present the fantastical elements of the story.
When Alice — played by Therese Kinirons — grew to be the size of the rabbit’s house, for example, she disappeared behind a set of large, painted eyes that appeared in the windows, leaving the audience to imagine what the massive head they were attached to might look like.
Dealing with the limitations of the stage, the performing arts force participants to find creative ways to portray complex situations, and according to Brase, these challenges can also help build confidence and teamwork. Putting on a show, he said, “Teaches kids to build something from the ground up.”
He said that the district’s theater program is an “all hands on deck” endeavor. To be eligible for the Thespian Honor Society — which Brase said boasts an unusually large membership of about 80 — “students have to earn points not just by being on stage, but by participating off stage.” When it all comes together, he said, “It’s a great sense of accomplishment.”
Brase added that almost all of Ocean-side’s high school and middle school productions go “on the road,” performing for each of the Oceanside elementary schools to get younger students excited about theater.
For Courtney Pincus-Koehle, director and founder of the Oceanside-based program To the Stage, the benefits of theater go beyond learning to perform. The organization’s mission is, she said, “to expose students — age 3 to college age — to musical theater performance.”
Her concern isn’t turning her students into stars, she said. To the Stage is about filling in the gaps of traditional education. “Testing does not develop creativity, communication and social skills, and empathy and compassion for others,” Pincus-Koehle said. “Theater and the arts are all about that.”
Oceanside-based photographer Paul Oretsky, whose work is featured at the Oceanside Library’s resident exhibition space — along with that of another local photographer, Earl Dawson — said that the arts provide experiences necessary to the human experience. Oretsky mused in an email that a world without the arts was impossible. “Making sense of our existence is dependent upon the arts,” he wrote.
Of his own work — in which both architecture and wildlife play a key role — Oretsky said, “Photography captures diversity in both the natural world and in the ‘hand of man’s creations.’
“As primarily visual organisms,” he continued, “I believe the arts help us make new neural connections, give us stimuli to contemplate, and to share impressions and ideas.” To put it simply, he wrote, “The arts expand our world.”
Tony Iovino, the library’s community services supervisor, said that its arts programs are aimed at “expanding our world,” as Oretsky put it. For instance, its “Beyond our Borders” — which will focus on India from January through March — gives participants a window into the arts and culture of far-off countries, and has included Spain and South Africa.
In addition to “Beyond our Borders” and the resident artist space — where library-goers can consume local art — the library hosts a number of programs aimed at tapping into patrons’ own creativity.
At Paint Nights, held every few months, participants create their own paintings around a specific theme or technique. At Script Reading Roundtables, participants take on roles by reading scripts from movies, plays and TV shows out loud. Nassau County’s 2017-19 poet laureate, Peter V. Dugan, helps hosts creative writing open-mic nights, and Molloy College’s writer-in-residence, Barbara Novack, runs monthly creative writing workshops.
“All branches of the arts are important for people of all ages,” Iovino said. “It helps expand our minds and our empathy, and we’re proud to provide outlets for just about any type of art that people enjoy.”