Writer / Melissa Gibson
“There is richness and overwhelming acceptance in the wonderful people I’ve met, which is something I’ve always loved. Everyone is accepted,” says Craig Whitcombe, Director and co-owner of The Biz Academy in Avon, of theater.
Whitcombe’s partners, Jeff and Jan VanParis, are educators in the County and created the theater organization to develop and empower young actors, singers and dancers. The Biz offers a variety of classes and expertise to young thespians, perhaps most unique is the experiences offered behind the scenes.
The “My Time to Shine” program, a program for children and adults with special needs, not only provides time on the stage for those who may not otherwise get a chance, but it also provides a lesson in selflessness, understanding and friendship.
“We’re in our fourth year, and it’s the only one in the state that we’re aware of,” Whitcombe says. “The actors audition, perform and produce the entire show.”
Veteran Biz Kid volunteers mentor each actor and help them through the process, providing moral support, but the actual performance is completely on their own.
The students regularly meet people that they may not have had it not been for their similar love of the stage. Students with disability, illnesses, different cultures and understanding have all passed through the doors, and Whitcombe describes those experiences as, “an emotional connection and a tight bond between them.”
They are a family.
A few years ago, more than 80 children performed in “The Lion King Jr.”, and the kids loved the African dance instruction they received so much that the Ball State University instructor now offers classes regularly.
Many can be seen on stage at Beef and Boards Dinner Theater, Indiana Repertoire Theater, Footlight Musical Theater and others.
All began at some point, performing and taking classes through The Biz and while Whitcombe says it’s hard to see them go, they actively help students prepare for auditions, what to expect, identify areas of improvement and, most of all, support them in wherever their paths take them.
Abby Moyers is one senior hoping to be accepted into a theater program this fall and eventually Broadway.
“I think it’s fun to step out of your box and be someone else,” Moyers says. “I like to tell the story and entertain people.”
Moyers is not alone.
Whitcombe says the demand for music production and a huge body of support has allowed The Biz to continue to grow. What set them apart from other theater groups around the state are the classes and education students receive from working with these professionals.
Classes, such as voice training, acting, auditioning, dance and makeup courses, are offered for preschoolers (Introduction to Acting) all the way through college age, and they’ve recently added a Kindermusik course for those younger than preschool.
“We’re constantly looking for new opportunities for the kids, something different,” Whitcombe says.
He recently completed his first musical piece about Ryan White, one of the first hemophiliacs to be diagnosed with AIDS in 1984 entitled, “Shine On”.
Biz students will attend The Indianapolis Children’s Museum display about Ryan and meet his mother. Moyers will play Ryan’s mother during performances the last weekend of May and is looking forward to the challenge.
“This is the first true story I’ve ever done, and in other performances I’ve been able to do my own adaptation of the character,” Moyers says. “This time, I want to be sure to get it right. I want to portray her in the right way.”
Most of all, the Biz Kids are making memories to last a lifetime.
“Those people that I send birthday cards and Christmas cards to back home are the ones from my youth theater days,” Whitcombe says. “I had friends in high school and college of course, but the ones that stuck were from my youth. It’s a formative time of your life and perhaps the seeds are laid there that determine what kind of person you’re going to be.”
The Biz performances are at Harmony Baptist Church in Avon. Check their website, thebiz-academy.com for information regarding regular performances and 2017 summer camps.
The My Time to Shine program is free for participants due to generous donators in the community.