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Learning Through the Arts: Spotlight On Kirsten deLohr Helland & Shaye Hodgins

This holiday season, The 5th will present a sumptuous production of Rodgers and Hammerstein's The Sound of Music. Two of the principal actresses in the show are also former students and participants in 5th Avenue Education programs, one of whom has become one of the hottest young stars in Seattle and the other who is ready to break out onto the scene. I took a moment to catch up with each of them about the ways our programs have impacted them as people and as artists. 


Kirsten will play Maria Rainer in The Sound of Music.

Kirsten deLohr Helland has had the exciting opportunity to feel the power of our theater education programs as both a student and an artist. While a student at Peninsula High School in Gig Harbor, she was twice nominated for a 5th Avenue Award (a Tony Awards-style awards ceremony honoring high school musical theater across the state)—once in 2004 and again in 2006. In 2011, she joined the cast of Adventure Musical Theater’s curriculum-based production ofRosie the Riveter as Rosie, and toured Washington State presenting the musical to over 55,000 elementary and junior high school students in nearly 150 schools.

When I ask her to describe the most valuable thing she learned as a participant of 5th Avenue education programs, Helland answers plainly, “To be true to myself.” She smiles and continues.

“To be respectful, to be gracious, to work hard for what I want and to always remember that the work is never done. That I am part of an incredible community and that I don’t need to see the things that make me different as a negative.”

We talk about the value of arts education and why schools should increase opportunities for students to learn through art. "Whether you go on to become an artist of a business professional, the skills students learn from any art class will have a lasting impact on their lives and careers," Helland says. "Skills like discipline, creativity, imagination, empathy, public speaking, leadership, confidence, communication, cultural awareness, inventiveness, community, team building, problem solving, understanding, and the list goes on and on. Students need to be thinkers, possess people skills, be problem-solvers, demonstrate creativity, and work as a member of a team. The arts provide all of these skills and more."


Shaye will play Liesl Von Trapp in The Sound of Music.

In contrast to Helland, a known and respected, hard-working young star, Shaye Hodgins is a high school student with all the strength and gravitas of a professional. Audiences should look forward to seeing her on Seattle stages for many years to come. While a sophomore at Snoqualmie’s Mount Si High School, Hodgins starred as Julie Jordan in the Rising Star Project production of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Carousel.

The Rising Star Project enables students from throughout the state to re-mount a professional production on The 5th Avenue stage, utilizing the theater’s sets and costumes and providing students with direct mentorship from 5th Avenue staff. As a student in this unique, tuition-free program, she developed professional skills through the process of performing in this show on The 5th Avenue stage.

I ask Hodgins how her participation in 5th Avenue Theatre’s education programs has helped her grow as an artist and as a person. “I’ve participated in The Rising Star Project the last three years, and at the risk of sounding too cheesy, the program has completely changed my life,” she enthuses.

“The Rising Star Project cultivates an environment that is both challenging and supportive. I learned to stop obsessing over my performance—how well I sang or how I delivered each line—instead, I learned to focus on telling a story. That’s why we do theater. Not for ourselves. The goal is to share a story in an authentic way.”

When asked what she hopes other students gain from participating in programs such as Rising Star Project, she states, “I hope that future students gain the same sense of confidence and community that I experienced.”

The 5th Avenue Theatre Education programs reached 74,000 Washington students this year alone. While the number of students reached is impressive, the impact is far greater. Studies show that students who are engaged in arts education learn critical life skills such as empathy, motivation and discipline. They learn to work as a community and develop sensitivity to a variety of cultural experiences.

The research also confirms that an education rich in arts learning increases achievement in all academic areas and fosters a love for life-long learning. As Helland and Hodgins will tell you, theater has the power to change lives and we are honored to have had an impact on these fine performers. The 5th Avenue Theatre recognizes the value of learning through the arts and we are constantly seeking new ways to engage youth through the power of live theater.