HIGHLAND PARK – With more than 250 workshops, performances and lectures to choose from at the 2017 FOCUS on the Arts, how do Highland Park High School students decide which events to attend?
“Typically, the most popular workshops are hands-on,” said Daphne Kass, a junior co-chair on the Creative Writing Workshops Committee of the Student Leadership Board. “Activities where you get to make something that you can keep are really fun. People also love anything Hamilton, and we have members of the Chicago cast doing two workshops.”
FOCUS is a collaboration of the city, school, and community presented by the HPHS Fine Arts Department and PTO. The event will celebrate the arts for three days and nights April 25-28. In honor of the 26th FOCUS, a special opening night ceremony will feature Emmy and Tony award-winning actress Tyne Daly, accompanied by pianist and HPHS alum Dan K. Kurland, on April 25 at 7 p.m. at HPHS. The duo will perform songs and poetry.
“Dan has worked with Tyne Daly before and he helped us get her on board,” said Jody Weinberg, in her third year as FOCUS coordinator. “We have a strong connection with so many of our alums who give us ideas about people they know who are doing great things, so we’re thrilled.”
The free FOCUS event takes place every other spring and about 60 alumni will be returning this year.
“I think it is incredible that so many alumni return to FOCUS,” said Rebecca Mosk, senior co-chair on the Drama Workshops Committee of the Student Leadership Board. “It shows how important this event is and how it may have impacted their own life. Cory Provus, the radio voice for the Minnesota Twins, is someone everyone should consider seeing. He will lead an interactive discussion about the rise of his career. From his time at HPHS to his career now, he has never quit his love for sports, which should serve as an inspiration for us all.”
In addition to Provus, Weinberg said Lou Canellis, Fox 32 News has been participating in FOCUS for many years. “He’s a favorite, and we’ll have a wide variety of other sports- related speakers in our media workshops.”
Weinberg explained that the Student Leadership Board is comprised of juniors and seniors who co-chair the different committees. “They are integral in the planning and we want to hear their ideas,” she said. “I always joke that I could sit in my office and plan the whole thing by myself, but the workshops have to be interesting to our students, so we like to get their input.”
The 40 student board members each oversee a different part of the event. Weinberg also works with PTO coordinators.
A few members of the Student Leadership Board shared information on some of the more popular FOCUS workshops:
“Hands-on activities like glass blowing, cake decorating (from Bent Fork Bakery), beading, and mosaic making always fill up very quickly,” said Elyssa Fishman, senior co-chair of the Dance Workshops Committee. She added, “The student showcases stand out to me because it takes a lot of courage to get up in front of your peers and perform, so I’m always very impressed and love watching them perform what they love.”
“Though not every event may appeal to one person, there is an abundance of options for students to pick,” said Mosk. “Over the years, certain workshops do stand out which include designing your own bonsai tree, creating a certain cuisine or dessert, Playback Theatre and Boomshaka (music group).”
Isabelle Arbetter, senior co-chair of the Student Showcase Committee described a unique program at FOCUS: “Typically, FOCUS’ artists are performers, work in the performance industry, or are well-known in the media, but the program that Julia deBettencourt brings to FOCUS is unique because it is specifically designed for the students in the Special Education program at HPHS,” said Arbetter. “Her workshop will involve theatre exercises and games for the Special Education students who attend.”
Weinberg said ComedySportz will perform for all of the students at the opening assembly kickoff on the morning of Wednesday April 26. After the opening assembly, students will have an opportunity to visit other events throughout the day.
Art Night will take place on Wednesday April 26 from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. at HPHS. “Art Night is a big night that’s open to the community and it’s great for all ages, said Weinberg. “We’ll have young children through seniors and it’s a living breathing art fair. Some of the events will include: The Chicago Woodturners, a special effects makeup artist, ceramics, origami and caricatures. Attendees will sometimes be able to walk away with different things that they’ve made.”
Dance Night will be held on Thursday, April 27 at HPHS. The event will include “five of Chicago’s finest dance companies: Cerqua Rivera Dance Theatre, Chicago Repertory Ballet, Giordano Dance Chicago, Hubbard Street Dance Chicago and Visceral Dance Chicago.” HPHS’ Collage dance troupe will also perform according to a press release.
“When people think of FOCUS they probably think more about the amazing performances that occur, but truly these performances would not be possible without the behind the scenes hospitality that goes into making each performer feel comfortable on stage,” said Arbetter.
A free ticket giveaway for Opening Night with Daly and Kurland and Dance Night was held on April 8. Weinberg said that some seats are still available for these events. For more information visit: hphsfocus.org