Arts alive and well in hands of young stars of NCWV


CLARKSBURG — Olivia Insani loves to sing.
It’s not a newfound love, and it didn’t wait to appear until she began her schooling, though she does credit a number of teachers with fostering her passion.
“It’s been a part of my personality,” she said. “I was singing before I could talk, humming before I could form words. It wasn’t like something sparked my interest; it’s just always been a part of who I am.”
Insani, a 2016 Robert C. Byrd High School graduate and current music education (voice) major at West Virginia Wesleyan College who just finished her freshman year, is one of a burgeoning group of young artists from the area ready to share their talents.
Consider Noah Martin, who just graduated from RCB this May and will be headed to Florida’s Full Sail University this fall to study live show production. It’s a field that involves learning to produce anything from sound to lighting or even video in a stage performance. The work he will be doing is more complex than one might think.
“For me, I get to know each individual person on stage,” he said, “and then find out that happy medium that everyone on stage can work with.”
He was the lead sound technician for five productions at Byrd, but like Insani, his interest started long before high school.
“It was actually my dad who got me interested in the career years ago,” he said. “For 15 years, he had his own DJ business, and I went with him on gigs. It just kind of started there.”
When he graduates from college, Martin hopes to become part of a major company and travel, potentially with a band. He said the payoff in the work he will do is “having that vision of the final aspect of what it’s going to look like and then seeing it come true.”
“It’s definitely one of those things where it’s not only entertaining, it’s fun to do, but it’s everywhere you go,” he said. “You can find work in the arts anywhere.”
Sarah Smith, a 2014 Liberty High graduate and double major in musical theater and English writing at Wesleyan, said her interest also grew out of her family’s passion.
“I’m lucky to come from a family that appreciates the arts,” she said. “My mom was always interested in singing and choirs, and my father was a musician in a band. Growing up, they made sure I had exposure to the arts.”
During her early childhood, with both parents teachers at Liberty, she said she was often volunteered for children’s roles in the high school’s plays.
An interest in the theater stuck with her, and Smith said the ability to develop an individual in a story through her performance makes acting a rich experience.
“My favorite part of theater in general is crafting a character,” she said. “Then when you add the musical aspect to it, you get to see more of the emotions through that avenue. When you have a character you connect to, you can really feel their emotions. Then when you can use your musical talents to express that, when it’s done well, I think it’s absolutely beautiful.”
Once she graduates from Wesleyan, Smith intends to pursue her career as an actress, but with a twist.
“I know that’s very difficult to do, especially being from a small town,” she said. “But my plan is to use both of my talents — acting and writing. I’m in the process of creating a one-woman show that I’ll try to perform in small venues based on a collection I’ve already written.”
For now, Smith will finish her final year at Wesleyan, where she’s already played some memorable roles and made a name for herself on campus. This October, she has the leading role in a four-person, student-directed Wesleyan Theater Honorary show called “Extremities,” which she said will be one of her biggest challenges yet.
Another talented actress from Harrison County is Bridgeport’s Sierra Shreves, a 2016 Bridgeport High School graduate who just completed her freshman year at Nova Southeastern University in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.
A double major in technical theater and secondary education for literature, she also works for the Beckley-based Theatre West Virginia, starring this summer in “Footloose” and “Hatfields and McCoys.”
Like the other locals, her interest in theater started early, but it wasn’t until her time at the Governor’s School for the Arts, which she attended at the same time as Insani, that she embraced it fully.
“I got to really focus on my craft for three weeks, and I was surrounded by people who were passionate about the same thing that I was,” Shreves said. “Committing myself to studying in that for three weeks and seeing the progress in the collaboration and the art that came from that really left an impression on me.”

Though she said she hasn’t made a final decision about her future, Shreves is focused on helping others through her work in theater, either through educational theater or theater education. She feels the field has the power to make a difference.
“I think theater can trigger empathy in a world that lacks empathy, and it can give people insight into other people who may not be the same as them on the surface level,” she said. “Through theater, they can get a better understanding of what we all have in common.”
Insani has a particularly special bond with music, with her talent having helped her through some difficult times.
“I was born with a cleft palate, and speech was really difficult for me for a long time. Probably until third grade, I had a major speech barrier. I felt uncomfortable speaking with my voice,” she said. “Growing up, I was often instructed to speak differently, though not by my parents.
“That was something I had a major insecurity with,” Insani said.
“But when I would sing, none of that mattered. I didn’t have speech issues. And the fact that I had major ear surgeries growing up — I don’t know if it’s that the people around me were so encouraging — my family was very supportive and always had my back, because they were kind of amazed that of all things I took interest in, that was the one I fell in love with.
“Singing has always been my happy place,” she said.
With music having played such a powerful role in her life, Insani said she intends to share that love with others. She teaches voice lessons in Clarksburg and Buckhannon, and she intends to get a graduate degree in either vocal pedagogy or vocal performance in order to both perform and continue teaching others enthusiastic about the craft.
Each of the four agreed that the arts, though difficult to pursue in West Virginia, will continue to be alive and thrive in the area.
“It was really comforting, when I would go to art camps, to see that I wasn’t alone in the arts, and see that there were peo ple who were willing to commit their lives to what they loved,” Smith said. “I think sometimes you have to leave West Virginia as an artist to pursue more opportunity, but I think it’s great that there are still artists and teachers trying to help young people with an interest in that so the dream doesn’t die here.”

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