Colville may not have a symphony orchestra or a ballet company yet, but it’s getting ready to train the performers.
If everything goes as planned, the third floor of the historic Rickey Building will be turned into a performing arts academy. The rest of the building was renovated last fall as an antique mall and soda fountain called Barman’s Country Store.
The project got off the ground when Richard Randall did the architectural drawings for the Rickey Building renovation. He got building owner Jeanie Acorn together with Colville Junior High teacher Greg Simon, who had the idea for an academy but no place to put it.
“I guess I’ve been thinking about this for three or four years,” Simon said.
Simon, 47, teaches English and other humanities, and has directed several Woodland Theatre productions, including “Man of La Mancha,” which opens Friday. He studied music and opera at Washington State University, and has a business background as well.
Simon and Randall are part of a core group of about 10 people who are spearheading the academy project.
The idea, Simon said, is to offer a wide range of performing arts instruction under one roof. Piano, guitar and dance instructors already have signed up, and classes in voice, violin and cello and other instruments are being discussed. Simon also hopes to offer classes in all aspects of drama, including stage management.
He envisions classes for everyone from toddlers to adults.
“Our sights are not limited,” Simon said.
Rickey Building owner Acorn said she is especially pleased by the thought of children twirling on a new wooden dance floor in the same place where popular lodge dances were conducted decades ago.
The dance floor is to occupy about onethird of the third floor. Five studios and a 60- to 100-seat theater for music and drama recitals also are planned.
Simon estimated the renovation will cost $100,000. The work would take about 45 days, and organizers hope to have it completed by late spring.
“The big obstacle right now is money,” Simon said. “We probably have about half of what we need, or we have access to half of what we need, mostly in the form of a private loan.”
He and others are scouring the region now for endowments and donors. The group hopes to complete its registration this month as a non-profit corporation so donations will be tax-deductible.
Randall said the group may merge with existing arts groups, including Woodland Theatre and the Colville Arts Association, which has worked to bring professional entertainers to the area.
The structure of the still-unnamed academy hasn’t been determined, but Simon said the corporation might hire the instructors instead of just renting space to them.
“We’re trying to put together a facility where the teachers would come together and have an interest in the total program,” he said. “We’re really excited about forming this camaraderie.”
Regardless of how it is organized, Randall believes the academy will succeed because of growing demand for cultural opportunities as people from larger communities move to the area.
“A lot of people have come forward and said they are thrilled that we are doing this,” Randall said. “I truly believe that this is something that the community needs. In fact, people are insisting that it be available.”
Randall said his service on the board of the all-volunteer Woodland Theatre in Kettle Falls convinces him the performing arts academy will succeed because of a growing demand for cultural activities.
Membership in the civic theater organization has doubled in the past five years, and 200 to 250 people are now “seriously active,” Randall said. Public interest is up, too. All of the group’s major productions have sold out since “Fiddler on the Roof” in 1993.
Valley, Wash., dance instructor Ann Marie Benedict, who performed with the Los Angeles Dance Theatre in the early 1970s, thinks the academy will make Stevens County a more appealing place to live.
She also thinks exposing children to the performing arts may open career opportunities for them and improve their performance at school. The arts can unleash children’s creativity in other areas, Benedict said.
Benedict teaches children’s ballet classes in Chewelah and plans to add classes at the Colville academy.
“I’m really interested in broadening out and bringing more students to dance in this area,” Benedict said as she led a class of budding prima donnas. “I think it’s a wonderful idea to have a place where all varied forms of the arts are presented.”