Center Stage Kids is celebrating a decade of putting kids exactly where its name suggests.
The Modesto musical theater program for students across the region will fete its 10th anniversary with the production of “Believe” on June 4 at the Auditorium Performing & Media Arts Center on the Modesto Junior College east campus. The original show will feature a cast of more than 100 current students and alumni. Center Stage Kids founder Dawn Peterson, who moved to the East Coast in 2014, will also return for a special appearance.
“We chose the theme of ‘believe’ because of what Dawn started 10 years ago. She had a belief that she could work with children and teach them all the different forms of musical theater,” said current Center Stage Kids co-director Heather Vargas. “All the chosen songs have a spin on the theme of believe.”
Peterson founded the performance school in 2007 with Amy DeMoura, who now serves as co-director with Vargas. The program has grown to more than 100 students from the Modesto-area spanning grades pre-kindergarten to high school. Classes are held twice a week in six-month spring and five-month fall semesters, with a public production at the end of each term.
Vargas and DeMoura took over from Peterson after she left and have carried on the studio’s dedication to showcasing each student, regardless of skill level and age. Unlike other youth theater programs that put on established and well-known scripted shows, Center Stage only produces original works based on a theme. Original dialogue and choreography is created for each show. Vargas said this helps them mold the performances to each age level.
“We create all our own shows, that way each class has their opportunity to shine,” she said. “Doing book shows would limit us. This way we can tailor it to the students we have. We like to be able to feature all of them; we want all of our kids to feel special.”
The downtown Modesto studio, which is not affiliated with the similarly named Center Stage Conservatory, has about five teachers who specialize in everything from acting to choreography and voice. About 20 of the program’s alumni, some who began when it was founded, will return for the “Believe” production.
Vargas said she hopes the anniversary show will be the start of many more years of successful productions for the school.
“We like to think of ourselves of laying a firm foundation and a love of the arts and arts education in the community. We are very inclusive. We have auditions that we love for all ranges of talent and abilities to come to us,” she said. “Some kids have been with us since the beginning. To see their growth is the reason you stay with it. We have some amazing kids.”