Performers from Art Saves Lives at Selah Theatre. Photos/Jennifer Avery of Jenspiration, LLC.

Local Performers Provide Proof that Art Saves Lives

La Tasha Do’Zia-Earley with ASL Interpreter Amanda Dorsey.

Things got personal on Friday, June 23, at Selah Theatre in Front Royal, when local performers explained how art has saved their lives. Ranging in age from pre-teens to septuagenarians, the performers brought audience members to both tears and laughter at the Art Saves Lives show, which showcased the work of local writers, filmmakers, dancers, musicians, visuals artists, and actors.

La Tasha Do’Zia-Earley, the founder of Selah Theatre, and event organizers Heather Davis and Tammy Ruggiero kicked off the evening with a reminder about the critical role of the arts in every aspect of our lives and the importance of public funding for the arts.

Colin Mason of Mirandum Pictures with ASL Interpreter Genie Searcy

Davis then introduced Colin Mason, the founder of local film company Mirandum Pictures, who pointed out that the Shenandoah Valley offers a wealth of interesting film locations and talent. Mason said there’s nowhere else he’d rather make film. He shared a compilation reel of the company’s 2016 work, which can be seen HERE.

Painter Davette Leonard

Mason’s talk was followed by a presentation by Davette Leonard, a painter and calligrapher from Rappahannock County who displayed a painting of a magnolia blossom that was so new it was still wet. Leonard confessed to being an easily-distracted child who needed art to feel safe and accepted. Her luminous still life paintings can be seen online or in person at the Caulfield Gallery in Washington, Virginia.

Bass Player Rafe Ruggiero

Bass guitar player Rafe Ruggiero followed Leonard with an instrumental piece he wrote and an explanation of why he chose a career in music over a career in sports, even though he excelled in both. It was music, he said, that just felt right and also opened up a world of friendships and camaraderie. You can listen to his music HERE.

Poet Ed Zahniser of Shepherdstown read poems about what would happen if you removed the letters a, r, and t from certain words. Another poem about climate change ended with a clear warning that soon, “the poor may have nothing to eat but the rich.” Some of his poems can be read HERE.

Teen artist Laurence Fischer shared a painting he had made and read the poem that inspired the work. Noah Waggener, lead singer of the Daycare Swindlers, followed Fischer with three songs on acoustic guitar and a description of how music helped him as a child, teen, and adult, giving him a way to beat substance abuse. His hard-rocking roots punk music had the audience foot-stomping and cheering. You can listen to the Daycare Swindlers HERE.

Poet Ed Zahniser

After Waggener’s performance, Stephanie Parkinson, owner of the Front Royal Dance Studio, spoke about what dance has meant to her over the years and how happy it has made her. She then introduced two teen dancers, Katie Butler and Tyler Kensy, who captivated the audience with their graceful and emotional dancing. Read more about the Front Royal Dance Studio HERE.

Noah Waggener of the Daycare Swindlers

Closing out the
first portion of the night, two teen actors from Selah Theatre spoke about how Selah has become an integral and crucial part of their lives. Kaelyn Speakman attested that Selah had indeed saved her life, giving her a much-needed outlet for her fears, hopes, dreams, and creativity. Katherine Sparger read a poem about the uplifting power of the dramatic arts. Learn more about Selah Theatre Project HERE.

After a short intermission, local poet, actor, and musician Rich Follett took the stage to introduce open mic performers. He also sang an original song and read a poem. His work can be found at Open mic performers shared original poems, songs, and essays, including a presentation in sign language about deaf culture. Sign language interpretation for the entire evening was provided by Amanda Dorsey and Genie Searcy, whose movements and expressions were works of art in and of themselves.

Tyler Kensy of the Front Royal Dance Studio

Every audience member also received a postcard to fill out in support of the arts and mail to a state or federal lawmaker. Information was also available about how the arts help individuals, students, and communities. Event organizers invited patrons to join United ShenValley Artists (USVA), an outreach of Selah Theatre Project that brings artists together to work for positive change. If interested in learning about upcoming events, joining the USVA, or helping with future art projects and performances, please email Heather Davis at

Thanks go to Jennifer Avery of Jenspirations, LLC for documenting the evening through photos and video.

About Selah Theatre

The mission of Selah Theatre Project is to empower, educate, and enlighten our community with theatrical opportunities that encourage conversations and have a positive impact. Each year, Selah reaches more than 650 children and families through main stage productions, arts education, and youth development programs. Selah Theatre Project produces original theatre productions and provides theatrical training and youth development through the Selah Youth Theatre Ensemble, in-school residencies, and after-school programs.



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