Vail Performing Arts Academy celebrates 20 years of teaching kids in Eagle County |

Vail Performing Arts Academy celebrates 20 years of teaching kids in Eagle County

Jonathan Windham is based in New York City, working as a dancer. He just landed a role in a Broadway production of “Fiddler on the Roof.” Windham was 14 when he started with the Vail Performing Arts Academy, in the eighth grade.
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About the academy

The Vail Performing Arts Academy (VPAA) was founded in 1995 and is dedicated to providing theatrical, educational and cultural experiences for the youth of the Eagle Valley. For more information, visit

for two decades, Vail Performing Arts Academy has been teaching local kids to stand and deliver.

Most people fear public speaking more than death. Between elections, pollsters measure this sort of thing.

You really can stand in front of people and be eloquent and do a good job interview. These are universal skills, said Colin Meiring, with VPAA.

“They start to get an idea of what’s possible,” Meiring said.

Anything is, said Alec Mauro.

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“You learn to be in front of people and not be afraid, to be yourself and that you can do anything when you put your mind to it,” Mauro said.

Mauro has been with VPAA for nine years, and sure, it’s good for learning how to be on stage, but it’s great life training, too, he said.

“There are all kinds of real-world applications. It can get you started right for so many different things,” Mauro said.

Learning acting, singing and dancing is good, Mauro said.

You also learn to present yourself, which is better.

“You should not be afraid to express yourself,” said Mauro, who isn’t. “The whole approach is learning to be outgoing and not be judged for it.”

In the beginning was Queen Annah

Back in 1995, Annah Scully was looking for something creative to do with her two kids, Anthony, then 11, and Maria, then 7½. She decided to start Vail Performing Arts Academy theater classes at the Homestead Court Club.

Not long after, the Vilar Performing Arts Center opened in Beaver Creek, and VPAA presented “Grease!” to sold-out audiences.

“It’s been a wild ride since then,” Scully said.

VPAA has grown from one major summer musical production to three major musical productions. Enrichment in local schools includes Star Power Theater Arts, Cotillion, Acting for the Camera/Video Production, Theater Dance … the list is long and impressive.

And let’s not forget community events such as the Vail Tree Lighting and the Star Dancing Gala.

These days, VPAA reaches more than 600 students per year. Many go on to become professionals, some professional performers, and most others professionals in an infinite variety of other vocations.

Everywhere, doing everything

VPAA alumni are everywhere, doing everything.

Rachel Weiss, for example, started as a shy 8-year-old. Now she’s studying at Cambridge University in Oxford, England. Weiss is among the 1 percent of Americans who apply to be accepted to Cambridge.

“Now she has excellent deportment — style, grace, eloquence,” Meiring said. “Your academics can get you so far, but you also must have the ability to express yourself.”

Sean Pack is in Los Angeles writing music scores for movies.

Mauro and Thomas Litchev are attending Interlochen, a performing arts school in Michigan.

Jonathan Windham is based in New York City working as a dancer. He just landed a role in a Broadway production of “Fiddler on the Roof.”

Windham was 14 when he started with VPAA, in the eighth grade. You learn all the stuff you’re supposed to — a good work ethic, how to work as a team, how to take instruction, direction and occasionally criticism, he said.

He’s 28 now. He went to school in upstate New York, headed south to New York City when he graduated and has been making a living at it ever since.

Windham has toured the world with the American Repertory Ballet, the Metropolitan Opera, Gallim Dance Studio and the XYZ Company.

He also makes his own work and had his own show last year.

“The dream is both wonderful and a lot of work. You have to make some sacrifices, but I think it’s worth it,” Windham said.

Jake Dutmer started when he was 7 and did it until he was 18.

“People accept you for whatever you are. It’s a very welcoming environment,” Dutmer said. “The older kids always made me feel welcome. I always tried to make others feel welcome, as well.”

For that first audition, the 7-year-old Dutmer sang “Hound Dog,” the Elvis Presley hit. (Actually, Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller wrote it in about 12 minutes, to fill a hole on an album. Willie Mae “Big Mama” Thornton recorded it in 1952.)

It worked. Dutmer got a speaking role for “Guys and Dolls.” He walked on stage and said, “Welcome to the Hot Farmerettes.” It got huge laughs.

His takeaway from VPAA is his love of theater, where he hopes to forge a career. He earned his college degree this summer in the University of Northern Colorado’s tough and selective program. He’s headed to New York on Oct. 1 to try to make it happen.

It’s the friends, though, that still mean the most.

“They’ll be my friends for the rest of my life,” Dutmer said.

Safe self-expression

Meiring grew up in South Africa, where kids played rugby and cricket, or cricket and rugby.

“If you wanted to dance or sing, you got beat up,” he said.

People need to learn self-expression and confidence.

“If everyone can express themselves in a safe environment, we’ll have much less deviant behavior,” Meiring said. “Performing-arts kids can slip through the cracks. Math and science kids get plenty of attention.”

You’ll see some improving test scores among performing-arts kids, and that’s always good.

“People underestimate how important it is for a kid to express themselves safely. VPAA gives them that safety circle to do that,” Meiring said.

Staff Writer Randy Wyrick can be reached at 970-748-2935 and

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