By SHARON TURANO
Special to the OBSERVER
JAMESTOWN - Shane Hawkins, director of Infinity Visual and Performing Arts Center Inc., hopes puppets once used by Das Puppenspiel that Infinity has obtained will help meet the center's mission of enabling youth to express themselves in a positive way.
Photo by Sharon Turano
Shane Hawkins, director of Infinity Visual and Performing Arts Inc. sits with some of the puppets that will be used in new puppet programming the center is offering.
Infinity was established in 1998 as a chance for young musicians to enhance talents under the direction of local artists and musicians, reports its website. It has grown, offering dance, art, music and more in an 8,300-square-foot facility on Third Street, Jamestown. In partnership with Chautauqua Opportunities Inc., Infinity has also recently acquired the last two Das Puppenspiel's shows, along with other puppets from the dissolved theater company.
"With a quality script and puppet base to launch from, a brand-new expanded facility on Third Street, an art instructor/puppet maker, Renee Pye, and Heather Ullman, former Das Puppenspiel puppeteer, Infinity is ready to watch this new venture become a strong component of Infinity Visual and Performing Arts," reads a news release about the start of puppeteering at Infinity.
"We want the kids to try different things," said Mrs. Hawkins, adding when Das Puppenspiel was no longer running a program and had some puppets available, Infinity staff was able to secure them to offer puppet classes.
Puppetry 101 will be offered for youth ages 8 years old to 18 years old, beginning this month. Mrs. Hawkins said she hopes enough students will become interested to continue in December's puppet-making class so eventually sets can be built, scripts written and a traveling puppet theater formed.
Mrs. Hawkins said she wants Infinity to offer something for every child and is therefore interested in increasing offerings.
"We like to see kids do well, excel," she said, adding Infinity is a place where they can be different, thrive and do positive things with their time.
She said she became involved after her son started learning music. She started to volunteer at the then-smaller Infinity and saw "it did great things for kids." The community came together to expand its offerings, she said, adding community grants were secured; the city maintains its building, agency relationships were formed, and more is being offered. English as a Second Language course is offered whereby youth sing English songs they learn to write and rhyme. Programs with homeschooled youth are beginning, also.
In 2008, she said, 208 youth were serviced by the center, with 999 using it in 2011, including services it provides at other locations in Chautauqua County.
"There's endless potential," she said, adding youth can drive where programs, such as the puppeterring one go. She also sees the program as a way to help the community that helped Infinity.
"The arts can be a great economic stimulator," she said about having performances downtown.
Besides, she said, "it can make you feel good."
She hopes the puppeteering program will help participants feel that way, also. She said scholarships are offered through Infinity, whose staff has also gotten creative in finding ways to not turn youth away due to payment issues, such as volunteering, cleaning and more.
"We try to challenge the kids," she said, adding there is a lot they can do to get in trouble, with Infinity offering mentoring, listeners, teachers and more that can "steer kids" and help make a healthier community.
"What began as a small music project centered around seven teens in the living room of one of the founding students has grown to a county-wide nonprofit organization," the site states. In addition to offering classes for youth and adults, there is a cafe' performance venue. Private instruction, student bands and ensembles, audio production classes and more are offered, as are need-based scholarships in music, visual arts, theater arts and dance.
For more information, call 664-0991.