The sound of kids yelling in unison reverberates through Polaris Arts Academy. It’s one of the rehearsals for Annie, surely. The stage is wide here. The academy is less than two months old. Kids and parents are shuffling in and out, while a choreographer helps move objects in and out. They’re all gearing up for the academy’s upcoming production— the first public show by the academy— of the musical Annie.
The academy provides lessons in basic dance forms, singing, acting and music— the unison of which perfectly matches their musical production. The troupe, composed of students of the academy and a few adult actors, rehearses quite often. The summer-camp children rehearse daily, while the rest rehearse twice a week, each group in roughly two-hour sessions. Saturdays, the whole cast comes together for four-hour rehearsals. Dress rehearsals begin this weekend. Kymberli Gentile, the owner of Polaris, will be there every step of the process.
Karen McCullah and her daughter Madison are each cast members. Karen is an ensemble member, while Madison is little orphan Annie, the lead, herself. Madison has been acting for about the past four years. “You get to be with people, and it’s a lot of fun,” Madison said. “I’ve never been in a lead role before, so it’s actually really cool for me.”
Karen joined up with Polaris after seeing Gentile, her old college sorority sister, mention it on Facebook. “I just thought, ‘What a great opportunity for children.’ And, of course, I thought about my child,” Karen said. “I need to share with everybody because this is always a great opportunity for children to just be able to explore their talents.”
Ariana Nasser, another child student, is acting for the first time through Polaris and this production. “I really like it,” she said. “I’ve been wanting to do this for a while.” She likes that she sings, dances, and acts all together, preferring singing the most because, she says, it helps her express herself. Nasser described her character, July. “She’s helpful. She’s nice, and she helps people when they need help or are hurt,” Nasser said. She enjoys rehearsals partly because she can spend time with all her fellow castmates— she says she has befriended all of them.
Karen helped recruit children for the new academy. “For me, as a parent, I would really like to see more families get to know Polaris Arts,” Karen said. “I think the children already here are having a great time and learning new things, and it would be great to have other children have the same opportunity.”
Gentile was always into dance. She once had a studio in Long Beach on the corner of Magnolia Avenue and Willow Street, which she was forced to close down after the Los Angeles Riots of 1992. It was more the curfews in its aftermath than window damage that sapped away customers and forced Kymberli to close down the studio.
She met Marlene Dove, the aunt of Whitney Houston, around 1989 by sheer happenstance and after some conversation found herself hired by Dove. “She actually is the one who inspired me to do all this because she took me under wing, and I was only 21 at the time. She wanted to teach me the ropes. She needed someone who could work alongside her, so I became her junior executive assistant,” Gentile said. “I was like her sidekick. We were together all the time. And she inspired me to go back to college.”
Years later, in 2004, Gentile was living in Las Vegas, working in entertainment with Dove’s mentorship to help her. While there, she founded Polaris— but, she left Vegas in 2007 after her home’s fixed rate expired, and with that came a much higher, unaffordable rate.
Gentile shut down Polaris when she moved back and only revived Polaris this year, with the grand opening on June 25. “It wasn’t the right time to re-open here until!the school system started cutting all the performing arts programs,” Gentile said. “So, I thought, ‘Okay, you know what, we need performing arts.’ Because they kept all the sports.” The academy had its first day of summer camp on June 28.
The location is a former auto-body shop. “When we took this over, we literally came here the day [the previous owner] was moving out, and this place was grease. Imagine a body shop being here since 1977,” Gentile said. “In two weeks we turned this whole place around. We painted everything!my husband built the whole stage himself.” Gentile described her husband as having built the stage over three sleepless nights to prepare it in time for the grand opening, and all the while her husband was still working full-time.
Gentile’s daughters, Kaitlyn and Amanda, are helping choreograph— as well as a friend of Amanda’s with experience in choreography, David Murphy. They scurry in and out of the lobby and the theater space. One aspiring adult actor, Alexis Rosseau, is at the academy today as well. He plays Rooster. Each person at the academy today is readying for the show. Dove will visit the opening night in a show of support, and she plans to partner up with Gentile to provide students a chance to work with celebrities, take even more classes and receive scholarship monies.
“I’m very proud of what Polaris is doing and that she is continuing the mission to serve the underserved children in the performing arts,” Dove said. “And I also am very pleased with what we had generated as a way to get music into our children and give them the structure of music as a discipline and as an academic achievement.”
Gentile has used the space at Polaris Arts for community events, such as a teen nightclub for the weekend or a family movie night spot, instead of musical-theatre-related events alone. And she already knows what the next show will be for Polaris: The Nightmare Before Christmas.
Karen joined the dance ensemble of Annie herself despite no acting experience. “I’m so glad I joined because it’s been so much fun,” Karen said. “I love it. I like being around this kind of thing. I see the joy in Maddie’s face being part of it, and all of the children. I like how Kym and the staff treat the students— and the adults— that are in the play. It’s just a great place! Kym said it one time as, ‘This is everyone’s happy place.'”
Polaris Arts Academy, 12022 Centralia Rd., Suite H, has more information on Annie and its showtimes on its website
Art is one of the highlights of a kid’s life. Regardless of skill level or natural talent, most children love to draw, color, paint, sculpt, play, perform and create. Art is the part of life that lets us grow our personalities and express our feelings in ways that simple words cannot. It’s what we turn to when we’re sad, frustrated or angry.
Children with learning disabilities could benefit from getting involved with the arts. In addition to aiding in academic success, picking up an art hobby can be a great way for your child to channel their emotions and find a way to flex their creative muscles. They can learn about shapes, colors, textures, patterns, language, communication, following instructions, creative problem solving and completing tasks that have rewarding outcomes. A healthy outlet such as art can give all youth a foundation to avoid unhealthy behaviors including drinking or doing drugs.
Below are five ways to get your child involved with the arts, whether in a structured program or casually at home.
Drawing and coloring are the first things kids do when they discover art. Some kids might graduate to other forms of visual art, such as painting or photography. Give them a box of crayons and a piece of paper, and let them go to town. Without any guidance, you can see what your children come up with on their own, which could provide a snapshot of their perspective. Give them instructions, and you can see how they interpret things. Besides being a form of self-expression, coloring is a soothing activity for kids who might get anxious or frustrated easily.
Music is an excellent creative outlet for kids who prefer auditory activities to visual ones. If your kids have shown interest in singing and music in the past, then nudge them towards learning a musical instrument. It’s easy to find a local music teacher for private lessons or a school that teaches group classes. As they develop their musical skills, your children will develop other pertinent life skills including discipline, listening and correcting course after making mistakes.
Creative writing is one of the best outlets for kids to express what they’re thinking and feeling. Children love to tell stories, so you can channel that passion onto paper (or screen). Journaling is a great way to start writing, as it teaches kids to be open with their words and improves their verbal and literary skills. Help them practice free-form writing and storytelling. Try giving them weekly assignments on one topic per week, or sign them up for a writing workshop so they can learn with their peers.
Self-Expression or Performance Art
Art can be a form of self-presentation or performance. As children grow into their identity, they choose to express who they are through their clothes, hairstyles, and makeup. Their bodies become the canvas. Performance art includes acting, dancing, movement, fine art, and interdisciplinary approaches. Your kids might enjoy playing dress up and acting out characters from a book or finding their own rhythm by dancing to music. You can nurture this interest by enrolling them in a theater group or dance class.
If your children like to get their hands into things, then consider introducing them to the hands-on art such as pottery or crafting with felt. Kids love to make things, which is why our homes are usually decorated with handmade gifts from the little ones. Your children’s crafting might start as something simple and kid-friendly, but as their skills improve, this hobby of building and creating could eventually grow into a trade.
But we’re not an artsy household. You don’t need to be artistic yourself to get your children involved with the arts. Artistry starts with creativity, not genetics. If you’re unsure of how to pique their interest in art, start by taking them to performances, shows, exhibits, and museums. Figure out what they get most excited about, provide them with the tools to start and let them run with it.