Theatre requires every discipline of art whether it is painting…dancing…singing…and now into the world of robotics and animation (on the LCT’s Star Academy).

Alex Attardo

Director of Education and Outreach, La Crosse Community Theatre

We sat down with Alex Attardo, head of Outreach & Education at the La Crosse Community Theatre. We talk about getting into theatre, the Star Academy, covid and its effect on the organization and programming, and what the La Crosse Community Theatre is excited for down the road.

La Crosse Local is proud sponsor of the La Crosse Winter Roots Festival.

Balancing Act.
Alex Attardo 01:15
Yeah, my name is Alex Attardo. I was born in New Orleans, Louisiana. And I got into theater actually because I was a sports person. I played soccer. I swam. Actually blew out both my knees whenever I was 15 and auditioned for the musical that semester which was Pippin in high school. So for theater, it’s like I started late, and you know in the arts they normally like you to start whenever you’re about six. But for me I started whenever I was 15 just because of an injury and ended up sticking with it and loving it.

Brent Hanifl 01:50
Kind of sent you down that road. So from there, how did you end up in the La Crosse Community Theater? You’re in the outreach and education component of it correct?

Alex Attardo 01:58
Yes. So, I actually applied to Viterbo to be in their music theater program in 2010. So I moved out to the area in 2010, ended up changing my major to theater education. About halfway through I took a gap year worked for Disney and then came back, student taught. Then I went back out to Florida and worked with their education team, worked with their guest services team, and then housekeeping management out there as well. And so, you know, COVID happened. I was supposed to move out to Colorado. I was supposed to be a store director in training for Sephora, actually. So I was going to open a Sephora at this place called the Orchard in Colorado. But life happens. With COVID, my partner’s family, they’re from Mauston area, so they got really sick about this time last year. And we started to have conversations about should we go back? Where do we? Where do we consider home? And so the real choice, we were in Colorado at the time, was do we come back and be around his family? Or do we go back to Florida? And we decided to come back here. And really this opportunity kind of fell into my lap. They advertised for it back in March. And then it got, the search got suspended. So they reached out to me. And they’re like, I’m so sorry, we’re currently suspending this position. And so I asked if I could help out with the summer camp just as a camp counselor. I wanted to get back involved in the theater. I really missed it and LCT, for me as an organization going through college, I was involved in their shows, and so it felt like a home for me. And so when I stepped back into the building, I was like, yep, I’m back at home. And within the first three days there, they told me that they had headcount, again for this position, and they would like me to interview for it. And, you know, that was in August. So really, I didn’t know if I had this job from March until August. Hurry and wait, and I’m glad I did.

Brent Hanifl 04:15
So you kind of touched on it a little bit. The background and education, the Star Academy school year edition, what is this program all about?

Alex Attardo 04:22
Actually, it was brought to us brought to our executive director Jace from a couple of the members of the community about having stuff surrounding the inservice and professional development days in the La Crosse School Districts calendar. And so I really just dissected it and was like, okay, when are the kids not present? Are they just their half days? And I took the eight days out of the year of the La Crosse School Districts calendar and said these days are days where kids are not going to be in school. And you know, why not have educational opportunities for them where they can learn different aspects of theatre. So this first one we did was special effects, because we have Blight Spirit going on, it had a lot of special effects in it. And you know, each different section touches on something that’s a little different. You know, theater is, it’s all encompassing, it requires every discipline of art, whether it’s painting, whether it is dancing, singing, you know, now it’s getting into the world of robotics, with automation,. There’s so much happening in theater that kids can, I think anybody could be involved in theater, you know, if they really wanted to, there’s something really for everybody. So each section is going to really try and hit a different discipline, and not just acting, singing, dancing.

Brent Hanifl 05:49
So I know my kids are back to school, and they’re pumped, they’re excited, you know, they wear the masks, that sort of thing. You know, they’re just kind of hungry for, you know, experiences. So what are you seeing with these like kind of first couple presentations with these children?

Alex Attardo 06:04
Yeah, so I would say the first thing is that they’re much younger and less across the board. We opened it up to from six to 18, just to kind of see who would be interested. And we knew that for the older kids, it would be more of a gamble, just because they can stay at home, they don’t necessarily have to come in and learn. But to program, you know, I basically create three different ways the program could go based upon what the numbers look like, and we’re really saying it’d be from 6 to 12, 6 to 13. So it is a bit younger, which is awesome, you know, to me, that’s, I would love to have 15 of each kind of range, really from 6 to 9, and then I would love, you know, an age range that’s from 10, to 13, and then really, 14 to 18, eventually, as this program grows. So we’re getting the younger portion of the program, which is amazing, you know, catching them young, I think is awesome. And they had a great time at this last section, they are always curious, they always want to learn. Kids learn very differently right now, with COVID, you know, for the path, some of them don’t know how to read as well, as they have in the past, you know, reading in this district is down almost two grade levels. So how do I engage them in a way to where they can learn text to where it’s like, visually impactful, because that’s really how they’ve been learning via a monitor for a long time. So lots of videos and lots of hands-on demonstrations. So it’s a lot of kinesthetic kind of learning, you know, they got to write a show, using a special effect at the end. And some of the six year olds, they don’t contribute the same way as somebody who’s 12. Right. So it’s about engaging and collaborating. And they created some amazing pieces. And the older students were very helpful along the way, kind of guiding their learning and getting them to, you know, have a script in their hand, be able to speak the lines and read the lines, really, they’re learning from the second they walk in the door, whether they’re up here in terms of their intellect, or they are, you know, younger, and they’re up here, and they just need the skills to be able to get to where everybody else is. So it’s really beautiful to see kids kind of all come together and learn as a collective and share art collectively.

Brent Hanifl 08:50
I can definitely see your excitement in this process. What are you excited, you know, for the next year or two, you know, related to this component? Or, you know, just in your own life?

Alex Attardo 08:59
Oh, yeah, um, I would love to get back to after school programming and doing some Saturday programming for really high school and adults. I think, you know, right now, we’re really focused on the kids. But I think education as a whole is for everyone. You know, it’s for the whole community. My title is Outreach and Education, so I do a lot of outreach with various communities. So I’m hoping in the future to build lots of stronger relationships and partnerships with various communities throughout the Coulee Region. You know, whether it’s Seven Rivers, whether it’s Enduring Families Project, the Hmong Cultural Center, Hope Resource, I think, really showing that the community theater is a diverse, equitable and inclusive place and really practicing what we preach, I think is huge in this area. I mean, this is a predominantly white area, I grew up in New Orleans where it is very 50/50. Whereas here it is demographically almost 88% white, which is amazing. But also I think I want the community theater to be a place where kids can experience different cultures where they can all come together to learn from each other and be a really kind of cohesive family. Because that’s really what community theater is. It’s about bringing people together. So I’m hoping in the future to build more partnerships with them. And so the community can be educated a little differently.

Brent Hanifl 10:41
So you know, if people want to find out more about the La Crosse community theater, find out about the Star Academy or even connect with you, what’s the best avenue for them to go to?

Alex Attardo 10:50
I would, of course, encourage people to find out more at our website, You can go under the Education tab and find more about specifically the Star Academy school year edition and our summer programming as well. You can always call our box office during the day. Usually Mary Kate, our Patron Services Manager, is there from three to five every day. That’s 608-784-9292. And then you can always email me directly. I usually get back pretty quickly. And it’s just my first name If they have questions, you know, please send them my way. I want all different types of people to come out and experience the joy of theater.

Amy Gabay 11:39
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