Most people probably do not associate "Romeo and Juliet" or "West Side Story" with cirque performance and hip hop music, yet that will be the experience offered to nearly 1,400 high school sophomores through the show, "Cirque Eloize," early next month.
Students will attend the Jan. 3 show at the Community Arts Center, courtesy of a $50,000 education grant made by the First Community Foundation Partnership of Pennsylvania to the Lycoming-Sullivan Standards Coalition to cover costs.
Plans for the event began more than a year ago. Those at the foundation asked area superintendents how they would use money, should collaborative grants be offered.
"It was a challenge to them," said Jennifer D. Wilson, foundation president and CEO.
Dr. Kathleen Kelley, superintendent of Williamsport Area School District, said the goal was to find something that would appeal to all students.
"We immediately thought about the arts," Kelley said.
With money in schools decreasing throughout the years, the superintendents knew many students would not have opportunities to experience the arts.
Tastes of a sophomore can be "very diverse," said Jeri Sims, Community Arts Center director of development.
The superintendents asked Sims and Rob Steele, arts center executive director, to find something that would be educational.
Steele looked at "a couple hundred" shows to find something that would appeal to the students. He narrowed down the options and the superintendents selected "Cirque Eloize."
"Everyone's eyes were focused on the students," Steele said. "It's a rare model. ... I've seen firsthand how the arts can impact students."
The show is similar to "Cirque de Soleil." It also is a four-truck show, which means it's a show as big as any show that has been on the stage.
"It's a rare opportunity," he said.
The sophomore year was chosen because it typically is a time when students are searching for their niche. Introducing them to the arts offers another direction for them to take, said Dr. Portia Brandt, superintendent of Muncy Area School District.
"It's an impressionable age," she said.
"We're so fortunate to have a place like the CAC to take students," Brandt said.
Making this happen is a "whole community effort," Kelley said.