The after-school program started with dozens of kids running through a human tunnel, being cheered every step of the way by the actors of the Transcendence Theatre Company. Held at the Boys & Girls clubs of Sonoma Valley, the program ended more than two hours later with 50 kids dancing and singing “Try Everything,” a song sung by Shakira in the animated Disney movie “Zootopia.”
Nine days later, on a balmy Friday night, most of the kids attended the Broadway Under the Stars “Gala Celebration” at Jack London State Historic Park. “I like the singing and dancing,” said 8-year-old Raul Stevens of Sonoma. “I could see myself singing with them someday.” That’s exactly what the actors hope to inspire, said Stephan Stubbins, co-executive director of Transcendence. “We see all of life as a work of art,” he said. “Our first project in Mexico was with an orphanage. That experience gave us a tangible feeling for the power of the arts to make a profound positive impact.”
This year Transcendence sought “to experiment with doing a more ongoing project with the Boys & Girls club to see if we could have an even more lasting effect on their lives.” What’s remarkable about the workshop, part of a continuing series at the Boys & Girls club in Sonoma, was that it wasn’t just a couple of actors doing some song-and-dance numbers with a few tips about performing.
Most of the Transcendence cast (15 actors) and crew (14 more people) showed up to work with the kids in an exuberant program that emphasized participation. The children — some as young as 7 — sang, danced, and complimented friends during the shout-out. One Transcendence actor, Desiree Davar, shared her story about auditioning for “West Side Story” in New York but getting rejected time and time again. After years of persistence, she got a role in the play and now has toured around the country and beyond in “West Side Story” and other productions.
Next, two actors had a tap-dancing competition, a “tap-off” as they called it, a lesson in not giving up: One of the actors, Evan Ruggiero, is missing part of one leg and dances with a wooden rod from the knee down. After seeing Ruggiero dance on his prosthetic leg, 9-year-old Edwin Aguilar said, “You can do anything even if you have a problem in life.”
Jess Coffman, a Transcendence actor who led the workshop, thought carefully about what lessons she hoped to impart to the children. “At the beginning of the summer, I took a look at what theater has brought to my life and the way I see it affecting people who come into Transcendence,” she said. “We have to trust each other and be comfortable with making mistakes right off the bat — that’s a very big part of the creation process,” she added. “Go for it and honor your authenticity. And be happy and comfortable to share that because what the world needs is people to be their authentic selves.” To break the ice, the program started with a name game where everyone made a dance move that was repeated by the group, eliciting peals of laughter.