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Date: March 14, 2024
Author: Cat Hayes
Support The Arts Reaching Students (STARS)

The original vision for the VPAC included bringing the arts to a wide range of patrons, including children

Even when the Vilar Performing Arts Center was just a twinkle in the eyes of the original dreamers and schemers, community was at the forefront of the many reasons to create a performing arts center in Beaver Creek. The reality of the VPAC checked numerous boxes at the famed resort, and among them was bringing the arts to youngsters.

The VPAC’s crown jewel continues to be the STARS — Support the Arts Reaching Students — program. Annually the Vilar Performing Arts Center welcomes more than 8,000 visits from local students, allowing the valley’s youth to experience the VPAC at no cost, and in the process, providing valuable arts exposure they might not otherwise receive.

A family takes in a STARS performance.

VPAC employees love to see the children dressed to the nines and experiencing the awe of arts exposure, which is for many, their first time seeing such performances.

Local teacher Matt Felton notes, “I’ve been a teacher for eight years, and we have utilized the STARS program every year. They always provide a myriad of shows and give the opportunity for students to experience different art forms they may never have explored on their own. This can be a transformative experience for some, as they never thought of dance or acting as cool, but then attend a show and find it both moving and cool!”

The performances align with teachers’ lesson plans, and curriculum connections are called out in the performance summaries shared with teachers. These events also provide platforms for attendees to discuss relevant issues like bullying, cultural awareness, and daily struggles children face, as well as the importance of setting and working towards goals and dreams.

Over the years, middle and high school students have also attended free performances, experiencing Shakespeare or opera, often for the first time. “The STARS program does a fantastic job really spanning the gamut of shows they provide and do a wonderful job finding age-appropriate shows as well,” shares Felton.

STARS began as a reduced cost ticket program, but even the nominal fee was a roadblock for some children and families. In 2002, a generous underwriting offer my local Bobby Heinrich ensured STARS programs were free of charge for local youths, including bus rides to the venue. Pat and Pete Frechette underwrote the series in the following years, highlighting their commitment to the program in 2018, when a generous $1 million endowment ensured STARS would continue well into the future. The gift commemorated Pete and Pat, who were longtime VPAC supporters and frequent attendees at the VPAC’s many performances.

“The STARS program exemplifies what our parents felt makes the Vail Valley so special,” notes Kathy Frechette Tenhula and Kristy Frechette Woolfolk, Pete and Pat’s daughters who carry on their parents’ legacy through their work with the Frechette Family Foundation. “Our parents shared the same values about what community means. They wanted all children to have an opportunity to experience the theater, arts, music, and other cultural activities. STARS continue to do just that, bringing joy and learning to children while creating access for those who may not have had it if not for this program.”

During the pandemic, STARS began a free, virtual concept called “Meet with the Experts,” which offered career preparedness and featured speakers from behind the scenes in the theater world, such as lighting, technical directors, agents, performers, and others.

Students came back to the theater in 2021. New in 2022, STARS for Families welcomed children and parents into the theater outside of school hours, expanding beyond the daytime format of STARS. “Experiencing the live performing arts as a family is a powerful way to start new conversations between parents and children, and to establish a shared appreciation for the arts in the household. We are thrilled to bring these exciting theatrical performances to local families,” notes Owen Hutchinson, VPAC’s artistic director.

Check out upcoming STARS performances here.


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