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BANDON — The local arts scene is one of the things that makes the South Coast a desirable place to live. People of all ages can get involved in local music, visual and performing arts and grow in their craft regardless of previous experience. It's a place where those who ever wanted to try something new can do so without fear of embarrassment or judgment, no matter what their age.

But for youths, those opportunities are sometimes difficult to find, especially in the performing arts. 

So when Bandon residents Dan and Anita Almich saw the theater program close at Bandon High School, they decided to do something about it.

The couple created New Artists Productions, a program that provides theatrical opportunities for youth in grades first through 12th. New Artists, a nonprofit organization, is dedicated to introducing new, young performers to the performing arts.

The goals of New Artists has always been to teach youth through all aspects of theater — acting, make-up, stagecraft, directing, producing, stage lighting and sound, scenery design and set construction. 

Dan and Anita Almich moved to Bandon with their two young sons, Michael and Daniel Jr., in 1989, when Dan retired.

As a young man, Dan pursued his interests in the arts — drawing, photography, painting, woodworking, and ultimately computerized drawing and graphic arts. Along the way he started working at Northrop Corporation in Los Angeles where he learned drafting and eventually progressed to director of marketing planning and research in Anaheim, Calif. 

Anita pursued education as a career, teaching mathematics, then turned her attentions to the aerospace industry, where she worked in engineering, then in the financial side of marketing.

In retirement, hobbies in the arts became the "tools" in producing youth theater projects. Dan designs all the show's sets using computer software. He and Daniel Jr. build most of the sets. Anita designs and sews the costumes.

The Almichs have been theater patrons for over four decades and have always appreciated the craft presented on the stage.

"We love theater, we lived right in the middle of the best venues in Newport Beach and Laguna Beach," Dan said. 

The couple has been supporting the arts in Bandon for years, starting when their own sons were in school and learning to play jazz instruments. The boys were both musically gifted and became involved in the South Coast Lab Band. Dan and Anita helped with bookings and recordings. 

Dan began investing in recording equipment, helping Lab Band members and high school students audition for solo and ensemble parts.

The Almichs also delved into theater when they decided to put on a variety show to raise money to purchase drums for the Bandon High School music department.

The entire Almich family was instrumental in building the Sprague Community Theater. Dan and Anita were members of the local Lions Club, which sponsored the project and helped raise the funds and the roof of the building by contributing hours of their time to make the project a success. 

With generous donations and grants, including a large one from the Sprague Family Foundation, the Sprague Community Theater was built. Much of the labor was by many Lions members and other volunteers, but with Dan and Ray Kelley doing much of the work and Michael and Daniel helping too.

"Michael and Daniel each put in about 3,000 hours while they were still in high school," Dan said. "And I couldn't have asked for a better partner than Ray."

A giving tree at the Sprague Theater shows who helped build the 250-seat theater in City Park.

“The theater has provided a permanent venue for people to present the arts to others,” Anita said. 

New Artists Productions started in 2000 with a series of concerts that brought audiences to the newly built Sprague Theater and put student performers on the stage. Dan says many of Bandon’s youngsters live and breathe to perform.

Under Bandon Playhouse, Dan and Anita directed their first play, "No Wrinkles, New Wrinkles," which was one of the first youth productions performed at the Sprague.

"We didn't know what we were doing," Dan said with a laugh.

The show starred local high school students who had nowhere else to perform.

"We had such a good time and at the same time, the drama program at the school was being discontinued and this group wanted to continue with theater," Anita said.

They put on another show, "The Importance of Being Ernest," and that was the kick-off to New Artists Productions as a youth theater group.

Eighteen years later, New Artists has produced almost 90 stage productions and musical events, held 11 summer camps and attended several different professional Broadway productions as a group. The shows have included full-scale musicals, smaller dramatic productions and musical revues. Along the way, hundreds of young people have participated, mostly Bandon youths at first, but now young people from Reedsport, Coos Bay/North Bend, Coquille, Myrtle Point, Bandon, Langlois, Sixes and Port Orford.

If a young person doesn't act but wants to be involved, the Almichs will put them backstage or have them help with set building, lighting, make-up and costumes. Some who have been with the program many years have also had directing and writing opportunities.

Others have been able to hone their musical and dance skills.

"It's fun, we've had some great kids and some of them had great voices," Dan said.

The Almichs admit they knew nothing about theater when they began and looked to others to help them.

"In our small community of Bandon, a retirement community, there are many skilled and professional people who are looking for things to do — to contribute — to give an additional layer of value and importance to their lives," Dan said.

Typical of their desire to learn and expand, the Almichs enlisted the help of a music professor at Southwestern Oregon Community College, Ida Jo Gates, to help New Artists members develop their voices and performing skills, with these young students earning college credit for their efforts.

The couple also learned the craft of theater from people such as Sally Ford and Bill Sipes, who had run youth theater programs previously in Bandon.

They also invested thousands of hours of their own time and much of their own money to build the program, with support from private donations, business sponsorships, ticket sales and limited grant funding.

"Some kids don't have a lot of confidence and developing that is a good thing," Dan said. "We have some wonderful tales of kids who would never be on stage and they've developed into amazing actors."

The youths who have been involved with New Artists have grown into adults who not only appreciate theater but have used their skills in college and beyond.

"Our kids think of us as teachers, but we're really students," Dan said. "We learn just as much as they do. And I guess over 18 years, we've learned a little about theater with them."

Bandon Western World Editor Amy Moss Strong can be reached at 541-269-1222, ext. 305, or by email at amy.moss-strong@theworldlink.com. Follow her on Twitter: @wwbandon.

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