AVON — Jeff Van Paris has been active in local musical theater for more than 25 years, much of that in volunteer community groups. Now he's filling a void and sharing his passion with younger generations.
Along with Craig Whitcombe, Van Paris has opened The Biz Academy of Musical Theatre. They're offering dance, voice, and acting classes for youths ages 4 to 18.
"There really is nothing on the westside like this - where you can sing, dance, act, and take lessons year-round," Van Paris said as he walked through his new business, which is at Prestwick Pointe.
The idea for The Biz started a year ago. Van Paris directed a production of "Willy Wonka Jr." for Hendricks Civic Theater that had a cast of 55.
"The kids did really well and had a great time," Van Paris said.
Their parents evidently liked it too. After the production ended, many asked Van Paris when the next youth production was. He didn't have anything scheduled until next summer, when he hosted an annual musical theater camp with his daughter Alex, who graduated from Ball State University with a bachelor's degree in theater. No one else in the area really was offering anything of the sort either.
"The interest is really exploding because the area's growing and kids are being exposed to it more through TV shows like 'So You Think You Can Dance' and 'Glee'," Van Paris said of the performing arts.
Indeed, when he and Whitcombe followed "Willy Wonka Jr." with a production of "Aladdin Jr.," 110 children auditioned. That was a revelation for them.
"I think these kids were ready for the next step," Van Paris said.
Initially he considered conducting classes in churches, but decided he wanted someplace permanent. Van Paris found this location, which is in unit 207 at 5201 U.S. 36, while eating at a nearby restaurant.