Performing Arts Collective seeks to thrive in Canal Winchester

By Linda Dillman
Staff Writer

Photo courtesy of CW Schools
The Winchester Steel Company.

The Canal Winchester Performing Arts Collective, comprised of 60 performers spread across three components—a steel pan band, community choir and theatrical performers—is gearing up for its first combined performance on May 19 at 6:30 p.m. at David’s United Church of Christ, 80 W. Columbus St, Canal Winchester.

The event is part of the steel pan band’s annual Spring Jam Concert. Joining the musicians for the first time are the Winchester Voices and the Winchester Street Theatre Group.

“Our performances have a wide variety of music,” said Canal Winchester Performing Arts Collective Director Todd Phillips, who brought his dream of the collective to fruition after retiring from the local school system. “Most people think of steel drums of island party music. Of course, there are songs that fit that description. We also have pieces that are more classical sounding, jazz and a variety of pop tunes/Broadway cover songs. No two pieces are exactly the same.”

The steel band was founded in 2000 as part of Canal Winchester Schools. Last summer, it officially became part of the Canal Winchester Joint Recreation District. The non-profit collective organization was founded in September 2023.

While the JRD still manages the collective, day-to-day logistics are handled by the organization. The community choir began rehearsals in February and the street troupe recently began activity.

The Winchester Steel band program has three ensembles—one for middle school students, one for high school students, and one for adults. Winchester Voices is for ages 16 and up and the theatre group is open to all ages. There are plans to add a small instrumental ensemble in the fall and a dance/movement experience in the future.

While the band has a 24-year history, Phillips wanted to create a theatre group unlike others in the area.

“Pickerington and Lithopolis have very established, quality community theatre groups,” said Phillips. “Trying to create a similar group in Canal Winchester could be a struggle. We do not want to compete with our neighbors. Rather, we’d like to offer the community things that Wagnalls and Pickerington currently do not. So we decided to do street theatre. Street theatre is a very open-ended approach. It combines short plays—eight to 10 minutes—with improvisation, theatre games and audience interaction. It can be presented with a small number of performers or a larger group. It’s the safest way to create a theatre program. Everyone involved gets to work.”

The Winchester Street Theatre troupe has its premier performance on May 18 during the Canal Winchester Art Stroll, noon to 6 p.m. Performers will be located in various places throughout downtown during the course of the Stroll.

While the acting group is new, the community choir has a heritage dating back decades, albeit in a different form.

“When I came to the Canal Winchester area in the fall of 1988, there was a community choir, the Canal Winchester Chorale directed by Virginia Heffner,” said Phillips. “This ensemble still exists, though performs on a limited basis primarily in senior centers. Unfortunately, modern society has few opportunities for adults to sing in an organized choral group. Decades ago, every church had a choir. Many modern churches have moved away from that older model, but the desire to sing in such a group has never changed.”

Phillips said the performing arts collective is excited to offer the experience to the community. Winchester Voices will run three sessions during the calendar year. A spring session concert will premiere on May 30 at Gender Road Christian Church, 5336 Gender Road, Canal Winchester, at 7 p.m.

“This is a nearly a 60-voice mixed choir,” said Phillips. “The summer session will run from mid-June to the end of August and the fall/holiday session will run from October into December. Performance dates for the summer session and fall/holiday session have not been scheduled yet.”

Like every non-profit, the Canal Winchester Performing Arts Collective must be creative not only on a stage, but also in how their ensembles are supported.

“We’ll take every donation, no matter how large or small,” said Phillips. “We are applying for various support grants to help fund our work. We have asked for a small participation fee for some of our groups and many of our performance events have a Pay What You Will ticket fee. You do not need to have a Canal Winchester mailing address to participate in any of our ensembles. Rehearsal schedules and locations vary depending on the ensemble and we have been lucky to have the support of local churches to provide spaces to work and perform in their facilities.”

Phillips acknowledged there are few opportunities for community members to participate in performing arts ensembles.

“The arts have been my paycheck and career,” said Phillips. “For the majority of our community, the arts are a much needed therapy. We are all aware of the last five years and how devastating it was to all of us. Being involved in the performing arts can go a long way to heal.”

In evaluating the public reaction to the non-profit organization and its programs, Phillips said he is overwhelmed by the response from the community.

“I know my long history with the community has made an impact, but I had no idea how enthusiastic and supportive the community and our city leaders were going to be when we announced these programs,” said Phillips. “I’m touched to have nearly 30 Canal Winchester High School alumni and parents involved in Winchester Voices, Winchester Steel ,and our new Street Theatre troupe.”

For information follow the organization on Facebook at CW Performing Arts Collective, online at cwperformingarts.info and by email at cwpacollective@gmail.com.

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