Community Hero: Former Dancer Brings Theater to Clark County Schools

Friday, September 23, 2016.

Kathy Ortiz has seen Clark County students undergo rapid transformations when their schools join the Disney Musicals in Schools program through The Smith Center.

“It just made these children blossom. Kids who were not coming to school before were now coming to school because they knew they had rehearsals,” she says. “It creates such a family among the children.”

This remains the driving reason why Ortiz, a Las Vegas resident and former professional dancer, has volunteered for the past four years with the program.

Under Disney Musicals in Schools, experienced teaching artists help local schools establish their own sustainable theater programs and put on their first production of a modified Disney musical.

The Smith Center, a regional partner with Disney Theatrical Group, has provided the program free of charge for more than 20 Southern Nevada schools since 2013.

Made possible by the generous support of The Smith Center’s donors and Members, this program serves as one of the many Education and Outreach programs the performing arts complex offers.

“Once it comes together, it’s amazing how not only the teachers grow but the whole school community grows from this experience,” Ortiz says.

The program is an ideal fit for Ortiz, who has a bachelor’s in jazz dance and musical theater and performed professionally for many years, including as a World Dancer at Walt Disney World.

“It’s just the perfect marriage of what was my past and what I wanted my future to be,” says Ortiz, also a music specialist with Las Vegas Day School.

Under the program, Ortiz has worked with a partner teaching artist in 17-week residencies at schools with no theater department, where they guide educators on teaching children to put on a production.

This is easier for some teachers to learn than others, Ortiz says.

“In essence, we’re teaching the teachers to be musical directors, choreographers and production assistants,” she says. “It’s a lot, especially for teachers who have never had this type of experience. So we are there to help them so that (in following years) they can do it on their own.”

She has found it helpful for her and her fellow teaching artist to run initial rehearsals, then gradually invite the school teachers to take over.

“Slowly but surely, we ease them into it,” she says.

She has helped schools such as Elaine Wynn Elementary School, Dean Peterson Elementary School and E.W. Griffith Elementary School put on performances, she says, always receiving enthusiastic feedback.

“Music and any art in general, especially musical theater, gets kids to come out of their shells,” she says.

Her work with the program has spurred her to further support arts in local schools.

Observing that many local schools lack funding for the essentials of theater productions —

such as props, scenery and costumes — she recently created the nonprofit Parts for the Arts.

Taking advantage of her many contacts in the local performing arts community, Ortiz gathers donations of various materials that schools can recycle for their shows.

“Just being involved in community theater, I’ve witnessed how so many items like sets, props, and costumes just get thrown in a warehouse never to be seen again, or worse yet, get thrown away,” she says.

Giving these items to schools can play a huge role in sustaining their theater programs, she adds.

In addition to materials from local production houses, Ortiz has received material donations from businesses and nonprofits, such as World Market, Home Depot, Ace Hardware and more.

“It’s just been a really great response,” she says.

Those interested in learning more can visit the nonprofit’s website, www.partsforthearts.org.

For now, Ortiz looks forward to introducing the thrill of theater to many more students at

local schools.

“It’s what I was put on this Earth to do,” she says.

To learn more about teaching artists involved with programs at The Smith Center, visit http://www.thesmithcenter.com/education/teaching-artists/.

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