Lights go down. Curtain goes up. Spotlight is on you. You are the opening act for a nationally acclaimed headliner. It’s a dream come true – or one never imagined – for St. Charles Parish public school students. It’s an Artsperience, a unique opportunity to view professional productions, participate in masterclasses and showcase your learnings on The Shell Theatre Stage at the Lafon Arts Center in St. Charles Parish.
“An Artsperience can be a lifechanging experience,” acknowledges Lafon Arts Center Director Chris Aucoin-Melohn. “Consider the impact of not just going behind the scenes of a play, a concert or a ballet, but to actually talk to the musicians, actors and dancers. For many students, the learnings are extended when they perform onstage as ‘the opening act’.”??
“Our goal is not to have all 10,000 students in St. Charles Parish Public Schools become performers,” he explains. “We do want to expand the educational experience by highlighting different cultures and different styles of art, whether they have a career as an artist, an appreciator, or a future audience member.”
Owned and operated by the St. Charles Parish Public School System, the Lafon Arts Center offers a technically advanced and architecturally rich professional setting for schools in the parish to present choir, band, dance, and theater performances as well as display artwork from paintings to sculptures. The center is also the main venue for the community to see world-renowned and regional artists close to home. Age-appropriate productions in The Shell Theatre are two performance shows –a free performance for students and a ticketed or series subscription package for the public. In between, the students participate in an Artsperience with talkbacks or workshops that many times lead to an onstage appearance.
The center is named in honor of former St. Charles Parish Public Schools Superintendent Dr. Rodney R. Lafon who brought experience as a professional musician and band instructor to lead the district. “Dr. Lafon recognized the connection and importance of the arts to improve math and reading skills,” Aucoin-Melohn says. “Although he passed before the building opened, it was his passion and his work with the community which led to this facility becoming a reality. To be in Luling, a rural town, to have such a large number of people who have been in band, in choir, or onstage in a play before they ever graduate from high school is an incredible foundation for building understanding and appreciation.? The arts touch our humanity in a way that is profound and different for each of us.”
With an emphasis on multi-genre productions, the Lafon Arts Center’s offerings are unique to the region emphasizing geographic, racial, cultural and gender diversity. “We want the folks on stage to represent our students,” Aucoin-Melohn says. “Diverse representation matters. During the Artsperience workshops, kids see artists who look like them while encouraging and inspiring them.”
He points to Sons of Serendip, a musical group of four friends who through a series of serendipitous events came together in graduate school at Boston University to create a quartet. The all-black group who were featured on America’s Got Talent includes a former attorney and teachers. “An Artsperience with the group will emphasize music as well as inspire kids that it is never too late to pursue a dream.”
Last year, the Lafon Arts Center brought in Step Afrika! including a workshop with all the middle and high school step teams in St. Charles Parish Public Schools. “The kids learned a piece from professionals and then got to be the opening act with that piece later that evening,” Aucoin-Melohn says. St. Charles Parish Public Schools’ high school choir students had a similar experience with the musical director of Voctave, a diverse a cappella group. “The kids are sharing the same stage in the same spotlight as groups and entertainers such as Lorna Luft and Megan Hilty, who performs in January of 2024,” Aucoin-Melohn says.
“The theatre is entertaining and educational,” says Shell Norco General Manager Tammy Little.? “Shell is proud to be an arts partner with the Lafon Arts Center as we recognize that creative energy is vital to Louisiana – it fuels us for the future.”
The Shell Theatre at the Lafon Arts Center is located in Luling, 20 minutes from the heart of New Orleans. You’ll find well-lighted, accessible and free parking for all performances. To purchase individual tickets or series subscriptions, visit lafonartscenter.org. Call 985-331-3670 for more information.