Decatur’s performing arts scene will lift your spirits and inspire you
STORYTELLING, THEATER, MUSIC, SONG – all of these we know to be inspirational, healing and powerful. We can all relate to a performance humming through an audience, knitting a connection with the experience itself.
Fortunately, we live in a community that embraces creativity; many notable artists and musicians call Decatur home. The City of Decatur’s Arts Alliance enriches our daily experience with downtown’s outdoor sculpture installations, busking street musicians, annual festivals and musical performances in Decatur Square. What some in our city may not know, however, is that just down the street from the Decatur Square and the infamous Eddie’s Attic — where musical legends like John Mayer were discovered — there is another performing arts venue bursting with talent. Introducing the Decatur High School Performing Arts Center, home of stars in the making.
The Decatur High School Performing Arts programs include musical theater, drama, chorus, orchestra and band. All have captured our attention recently, with last year’s musical Matilda making headlines at the prestigious Georgia Shuler.
Awards. The show’s multiple Shuler Award nominations last year included Best Overall Production, an honor given to only six Georgia high schools. This coveted nomination allowed the Matilda cast to make a red-carpet debut and perform live on Georgia Public Broadcasting at the Cobb Energy Center for the Shuler Awards Show in April 2022.
Lorelei Calder, then a junior at DHS, took home the award for Best Supporting Performer after she and fellow classmate Bridget Blanchard were nominated among only 12 students in the state. The show also received three honorary mentions, including Best Costumes, Best Leading Performer and Best Direction. Now, after the fanfare of last year, a new season of performances is upon us — the culmination of hard work by teachers, students and parents — and the stars are aligning again.
These stars include the teachers themselves – one is the current director of the DHS musical theater ensemble, Raven Owen-Beyer. While this is her second year at DHS, Owen-Beyer has been teaching musical and technical theater for the past 15 years and says of her transition to City Schools of Decatur that she is “fortunate to work at a school with amazing colleagues who collaborate and work as a team.” She is quick to give credit to the former musical theater director, Amy Rawlins, and current music director, Dr. Elise Eskew Sparks, for beginning the musical theater program in 2016. Her gratitude also goes out to department colleague Kate McNeil and DHS history teacher Chris Davis as being integral to their team.
Owen-Beyer adds that the kids are her primary inspiration, and you can hear the excitement in her voice when she says, “there is so much joy in watching them every day, watching them grow, and seeing them have an aha moment. There is nothing like it.”
She also believes they have a program designed to encourage kindness and empathy, meeting one another where they are. In fact, they call themselves a “theater family,” and Owen-Beyer says that she has seen students be transformed — though she’s swift to point out, “while it’s not a magic wand, performance has therapeutic value.”
Students who participate in the performing arts programs at the high school learn other valuable skills, including public speaking, confidence and collaboration. The student-led productions enable students to shine both onstage and off, with tasks including set design, sound system management and costume creation. After high school, a number of the students will take these experiences even further, pursuing performance art or production at a higher level.
“I’ll always find a way to work with community theater groups and choirs,” says Calder, adding that she plans to pursue a BFA in musical theater, as she is now submitting college applications. Of her DHS experience to-date, Calder beams, “I’ve enjoyed every aspect of my work with the DHS musical-theater program, from classroom work to musical productions. My teachers have been passionate, brilliant and inspiring.” When asked how the skills she has learned through the performing arts programs have had an impact on her personally, she says, “I’ve always been a bit of an introvert. Theater has allowed me to get out of my own head and focus on stories, perspectives and experiences other than my own.”
Even while the DHS Performing Arts are achieving great things for students and the community, funding for these programs is often uncertain. Like many schools, budgets are stretched, squeezed and balanced between much needed programs, and organizations like the Decatur Education Foundation and booster clubs step in to fill the gaps. For much of the Decatur High School Performing Arts, the assisting nonprofit organization is Decatur Performs. A completely volunteer and parent-led organization, they facilitate fundraising and help with administrative work to support the performing arts shows, concerts and competitions throughout the school year, in both Beacon Hill Middle School and Decatur High School. Pam Galenkamp, president of the organization, applauds the programs at both schools, calling the teachers “top-notch and brilliant.” Of Owen-Beyer she says, “she creates moments on stage that are magical.”
Galenkamp insists that the effects of the performing arts, whether you are part of the production or in the audience, are profound. “There is a connection made between the performer and the audience member. Performing arts have a way to reach down to the places we often neglect or want to push down and get away from. Sometimes you see a comedy — and, as I always say, laughter is the best medicine — and you can laugh and get away, but sometimes it’s pain. I’ve seen it with our students and even my own children: theater and music can be transformational – a safe place they can be.”
For younger students who are entertaining an interest in performing arts, this year’s production of The Sound of Music will audition younger cast members for special roles. Galenkamp encourages these students and those of every age to come see the shows, as she says this may be where you get “bitten” and inspired by the performing arts.
To experience the magic of the arts in Decatur, you have to get involved, and lucky for you, the Decatur High School Performing Arts scene comes alive this time of year. We are looking forward to this year’s event line-up — including musicals in the fall and in the spring — with historically sold-out performances, you won’t want to wait to get tickets. You can find schedules of Decatur High School Performing Arts events and information on how to become a patron or sponsor of Decatur Performs at decaturperforms.org.
The musical this winter will be “The Sound of Music” and the musical “9 to 5” this spring.