Parker Daines is living the dream.
He's 19. He's living in Los Angeles. He's working at a restaurant. He's doing audition after audition, looking for his break into Hollywood. He'll go to LA City College and major in theater this fall.
"It's pretty incredible," said Daines, a former actor with Bend Experimental Art Theatre, aka BEAT. "I'm only 19 and I've already started on what I want my life to be."
He credits BEAT with inspiring him to get here. But more than that, he said the organization provides hundreds of young people in Bend an opportunity to find themselves through dramatic arts - a program that local public schools have cut deeply in recent years. As funding has dwindled for theater programs, BEAT has seen participation among young people grow at its workshops and shows. The program has gone from offering three productions in 2006 to eight in 2012, according to the organization's director.
"I remember when I first started in high school, there were four acting classes that you could take, plus two video classes and a costume class," said Daines. " By the end, there was only one acting class. BEAT kind of fills in the gap for kids that don't have the opportunity to do it at their own school."
The growth in the program means BEAT can no longer rely on ticket sales alone to float the organization's work with hundreds of students a year.
To help, the group will hold a fundraiser called "And the BEAT Goes On" this Friday night at The Old Stone Church. Students from BEAT will perform. They'll hold a silent auction. Appetizers will be provided. And attendees can buy drinks from the no-host bar.
To BEAT staff and the parents of students involved, it's critical that the organization keep growing because of the unique services it provides to youth in the community.
"You know, kids can do math and English and science and all those hardcore left brain classes," said Leila Smith-Daines, Parker's mother. "But I feel like they need to experience life through colors, and music and imagination - all those things that are just as important to me. I just feel like it keeps both sides of the brain working well."
Smith-Daines isn't just a parent, she is directing one of BEAT's two productions of And a Child Shall Lead this spring - one cast will put it on in April, another in May. The show illustrates many of the things that make the BEAT so beneficial to participants.
The play centers on a group of children imprisoned by Nazis in the Czechoslovakian ghetto of Terezin, during World War II. The children document their experiences through music, art, poetry and an underground newspaper.
BEAT students must delve into dark, difficult places to access the authentic emotions of the characters they play in the production. Smith-Daines has created a number of exercises to help them.
For instance, she'll ask each of the kids in the play, aged 7 through 19, to tell the group about something sad that's happened to them. Then they compare that with what the children in that ghetto went through. It's a powerful exercise.
"We get upset if our mom didn't give us the right lunch," said Smith-Daines, "and here these kids in Terezin were lucky if they got lunch. It's just been very eye opening for these kids to see."
BEAT is devoted to giving students these kinds of growing experiences, said Howard Schor, BEAT's executive director. He also hopes to bring Holocaust survivors from the area in to speak to the children, too.
"I'm so clear that if anything [in our world] could possibly change," said Schor, "It's gotta come out of a shift from the young people."
Since Schor founded the organization in 2006, BEAT's casts have performed for thousands of audience members, and more than 17,000 tickets have been given or sold to students from all over the area, according to BEAT. If all goes according to plan, students from all over Central and Eastern Oregon will come to see the play, Schor said.
Smith-Daines said she's seen how BEAT can truly shape a young person's growth. One of her favorite things about being involved has been watching students find themselves by practicing being someone else, she said.
"Acting opens yourself up to your own possibility," echoed her son. "It's cool to see how being involved in acting and BEAT can really change someone's life."
"And the BEAT goes on"
$20 at beattickets.org
7pm, Friday, March 16
Old Stone Church
157 NW Franklin Avenue