ELYRIA, Ohio — The pandemic has forced us all to pivot, and News 5 learned about one non-profit that went from hands-on teaching about theater and acting to moving those classes into students' homes.
We found the pandemic is actually helping some local families better afford this program while the youth theater program is making our area A Better Land.
Ten-year-old Jaden Wolfe is a star in the making. When News 5 met him over Zoom, he showed us his best impression of a meteorologist!
“Well, it's going to be quite sunny next week,” said Jaden.
His mother, Becky Wolfe, describes him as the “Robin Williams” of their household, always cracking jokes, doing impressions, and working on sound effects.
“When he was little, he could memorize TV shows and I took him to a few plays and he was like, I want to do that,” says Becky.
For the last two years, Becky enrolled her son in the Spark Theatre 4 Youth program.
Jaden’s mother initially paid for in-person classes to help Jaden learn more about theater, but when the pandemic hit, those classes turned virtual and became free for Elyria students— thanks to a pandemic grant provided by the city.
“It is affordable and the teachers are so good with the kids,” Becky said.
Rachael Endrizzi, the co-founder and artistic director for Spark Theatre 4 Youth, said the free virtual format attracted some new students who may not have been able to afford classes.
The Elyria native is an actress herself. We caught up with her while in Florida working on a live stage production.
“We are a theater that produces live performances for schools and families. We also offer classes for kids, ages five to 18, in a variety of performing arts. So acting, dancing, singing, a little bit of filmmaking and acting for the camera as well,” says Endrizzi.
Endrezzi recalled when she was first bitten by the acting bug.
“I was about 12 or 13," she said. "And I just thought it was so amazing that these actors could make me forget that I'm sitting here in the 1990s.”
The program has been running for four years and has served more than 600 students mostly based in Elyria and Lorain.
“We wanted to try and make something more accessible to them. Most of our programs actually go out to the schools or are at locations that are in walking distance,” Endrizzi said.
Becky says Spark has taught her son a lot of valuable lessons.
“They're able to focus him, give him an assignment to actually focus on," she said.
Sparks’ grant that provides classes and virtual performances for free for Elyria students runs through the end of this year.
The program hopes to return to an in-person format in the fall.
To find out how to take advantage, check out Spark’s website.
This story is part of A Better Land, an ongoing series that investigates Northeast Ohio's deep-seated systemic problems. Additionally, it puts a spotlight on the community heroes fighting for positive change in Cleveland and throughout the region. If you have an idea for A Better Land story, tell us here.