Performing arts school finds home in Merritt

·3 min read

Merritt Performance Company is the brainchild of Heather Clark, who hopes to use her passion for creativity to help aspiring performing artists in the Nicola Valley achieve their dreams.

Although Merritt may seem like an odd choice for a performing arts school, Clark says she has been amazed by the number of talented people she has encountered here in the past three years.

“We started with dance and acting, there is a crazy amount of acting talent in Merritt,” said Clark.

“In fact, we hope to do a short film in the summer with some of the acting students in order to showcase their talent. I grew up, a very creative kid, in Mackenzie BC, two hours north of Prince George. I have always had a heart for smaller communities and the arts because of how I grew up. It has always been part of my vision to have art programs in smaller communities,” Clark continued.

“I actually really like the kids and the families in Merritt. I find everyone to be quite down to earth and just good people. That makes it really easy to do my job.”

Clark herself has plenty of experience in creative endeavours, performing and touring as a musician, singer-songwriter, painter, author, actress and director.

“I have been involved in the arts for over 30 years and I have toured over 25 countries as a musician with 19 albums as a singer songwriter,” said Clark.

I started out in the Christian music industry, and it was at a good time because it was an exploding genre. One of my albums ended up going number one on iTunes in the inspirational category. I had a decent amount of international popularity which opened up a lot of doors for me to be able to travel around the world. I used that platform to gain exposure for my paintings. At one point I had a painting in the Pentagon!”

Clark’s preferred art form, however, has been dance, which she uses as both a creative outlet and a tool for doing good.

“I have had multiple companies over the years touring internationally with shows,” explained Clark.

“A lot of the work we have done has been on social justice issues, specifically human trafficking and the sex trade, child soldiers of war, slave labour and poverty.”

At Merritt Performance Company, teachers Shekinah and Eden have undertaken extensive training ranging from acrobatic arts and basic fitness to human anatomy and class management, in order to share their love for dance in the genres of acro, jazz, hip hop, musical theatre and a ballet/jazz combo popular with young children.

Last year, Clark and her students were able to share their love of dancing with the community by staging COVID safe performances for seniors.

“I think my favourite thing that we’ve done was last summer when the senior centres were on lockdown, we did parking lot performances for them,” said Clark.

“So, we were outside in the parking lots and they could watch through the window or bring a lawn chair and sit outside distanced away. That made me happy because we could bring something to the community in a needed area.”

Clark hopes to add guitar lessons to Merritt Performance Company’s roster, and potentially additional arts in the future. When it comes to creating and performing, the possibilities are nearly endless.

“I would love to provide a safe place for people to explore their creativity, both kids and adults,” said Clark.

“A place for people to get some exercise and have a lot of fun while doing it. To train students who want to dedicate their lives to some art form or another. And also, to be connected to the community in an artistic way. I think people’s lives need art. For some that might be painting, for another it might be enjoying a painting. I think the arts are vital.

If you are interested in enrolling in one of Merritt Performance Company’s classes, contact Heather at heatherclarkband@gmail.com, 250-572-3000 or via the Merritt Performance Company Facebook page.

Morgan Hampton, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Merritt Herald