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Curtain rises on kids performing arts center

SALT Academy, KAD Productions open new center Sunday
by: Jim Clark Harvest Moormann, left, and Kerri Ellis are the owners of the SALT Academy and KAD Productions Performing Arts Center. The characters in the photo are from an upcoming production of ‘Mowgli's Jungle.’  The giraffe above and left, Natasha Moormann, the boy is Jacob Byrne, the panther is Gabriella Moormann and the girl is Meg Rothe.

Performing arts for children dances into Gresham on Sunday, June 26, when the SALT Academy and KAD Productions Performing Arts Center formally opens its doors to students.

'We will have dance, voice, drama and music classes,' said Kerri Ellis, co-owner of the new studio, 'but we're actually concentrating on performing arts in its entirety. We want to teach the kids and make them better.'

The academy is a collaborative effort between Ellis and business partner Harvest Moorman. Both longtime performers and teachers in their own right, Ellis and Moorman have operated individual studios in Gresham for years, developing young performers based on their fortes. The pair has also jointly undertaken children's theater productions, with help from Moorman's mother and sister.

The new center marries their expertise into a one-stop shop for performing arts instruction.

'I've focused on dance, and Harvest has done voice and drama,' Ellis said. 'We're combining forces and strengths to provide a comprehensive program so we don't have any holes in what we have to offer.'

Moorman was a theater and voice major in college, who went on to become an Olympic national gymnast in the late 1980s. She founded SALT Academy - Saturating the Arts with Love and Truth - as a Christian-based, non-denominational program in 2007. As enrollment increased, Moorman's need for additional teachers led her to Ellis.

'Gresham is still a small town,' she said. 'It doesn't take long before you run into someone who has common interests. I had students who wanted to learn dance, so I started asking around. Kerri is the coordinator for the performing arts program at the Phonics Phactory, and that's how we met.'

Ellis studied with the Oregon Ballet Theatre before taking on students as a dance instructor at her own studio, Kerri's Academy of Dance (KAD Productions). She accepted Moorman's offer to teach at SALT and the pair embarked on theater productions and recitals for their students.

But after Ellis and her husband, Andy, opened Frenzi Frozen Yogurt on Main Avenue in March, Ellis could see potential use for the unfinished upstairs space in the building, and basement as well. SALT had begun to outgrow its studio at Northeast Eighth Street and Cleveland Avenue, so Ellis and Moorman jumped at the opportunity to expand into a new facility with a larger program.

'When we're up and running, we will have two different studios going at one time,' Ellis said. 'We have over 100 kids already enrolled and moving into the academy. Our goal is to have around 200 students.'

One-hour lessons in dance, voice, music and drama start at $45 per month. Students are encouraged to take more than one class, which affords a discount for each additional hour in separate instruction. Adult drama and dance classes are in the works for the fall and online registration is available for children's summer camps.

The academy is putting finishing touches on its latest production, 'Mowgli's Jungle,' which runs Friday and Saturday, June 24-25, at Sam Barlow High School. Directed by Moorman's mother, Regina Badger, the cast features several current students and elaborate costumes made by Moorman and her sister, Hope Badger.

'We rewrote 'The Jungle Book,' ' Moorman said, 'basing it on Rudyard Kipling's book and retaining the light-heartedness of the cartoons. We try to keep our theater youth-based in terms of family appropriate entertainment.'

Bringing a fully-rounded children's performing arts program to Gresham is an asset to the community, Ellis said, because it offers a positive creative outlet for youngsters and serious instruction for budding performers. The academy is also an overture for what Ellis and Moorman hope to be a successful and ongoing presentation.

'It helps everything grow, when you have someone who shares your vision and the responsibilities,' Ellis said. 'Together, we'll be able to grow more than we would have separately.'

Grand opening set

Grand opening for the SALT Academy and KAD Productions Performing Arts Center will be Sunday, June 26, from noon to 4 p.m., at 28 N.E. Third St., Gresham. The event will also share center stage with Frenzi Frozen Yogurt, which will offer a free 4-ounce sample of yogurt to each customer. Studio tours will also be available.

For more information on the SALT Academy, or for tickets and performance times to 'Mowgli's Jungle,' log onto saltacademy.com.