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Wichita Falls Living Magazine

A Heart for the Arts

Dec 19, 2019 11:17AM

Chris Estes

Some people go their whole lives without finding their passion. Chris Estes is not one of those people. A 35-year member of the Senior Junior Forum, “the boots on the ground” part of the Women’s Forum, Estes co-chaired the Top of Texas Talent Competition; co-founded the nonprofit Backdoor to Broadway for youth; and, in the 1980s, worked on the production crew of Pizazz, a large-scale production benefiting children. Earlier this year, Estes co-directed a similar style of musical theater with Karnevale, a wildly successful fundraiser for the Wichita Falls Arts Council that will be held again in January 2020. 



 Sierra Otto, Brianna Arsement, Hannah Smith, Alyssa Minuto & Luke Draper


“The spotlight should be on these fabulous performers and the committee of Karnevale, an amazing group of women and men who donate their time.”  ~ Chris Estes


But Estes is adamant that she is just one of many who bring Karnevale to life. “I write the show, choose the music, casting and directing, but I can’t do any of it without Josh White on piano, and I’m nothing without these fabulous kids,” Estes insisted. “The spotlight should be on these fabulous performers and the committee of Karnevale, an amazing group of women and men who donate their time.”


Estes said those who “give up everything and totally dedicate” themselves to making Karnivale a successful show include talented performers and a dedicated committee of individuals tasked with everything from finding food vendors to decorating. “These people are so talented that I don’t even ask them what they’re doing because I know when I walk in there it will be perfect,” she said. “I’ve worked with these people for other galas so I know it will be 100 percent.”



 


Estes said those who “give up everything and totally dedicate” themselves to making Karnivale a successful show include talented performers and a dedicated committee of individuals tasked with everything from finding food vendors to decorating. “These people are so talented that I don’t even ask them what they’re doing because I know when I walk in there it will be perfect,” she said. “I’ve worked with these people for other galas so I know it will be 100 percent.”


Estes and Luke Draper directed this year’s Karnevale, “USO: Honoring our Military,” a sold-out show that included Sheppard Air Force Base. “I’m really proud of that,” said Estes, who wore her father’s dog tags from the Invasion of Normandy to the event. “We had pilots in vintage World War II bomber jackets on the stage, and they were so happy to be a part of it when we told them where the money went. The audience loved it. When you sell out, raise money for your cause and make people in your audience feel happy and honored, you’ve had a good night.”



 

 "The main thing when you are raising money is make sure people are having fun while they're helping you." ~ Chris Estes



The next Karnevale, “Prohibition Speakeasy,” will be January 18, 2020 at The Kemp. 


“It’s a lot of rhythm and blues,” Estes said. “My artists are so excited. This town is so full of talent, amazing jaw-dropping talent, and they always just say yes. The speakeasy days were from 1920 to 1933, and some of our military people will be on the stage as bartenders. They’re loving being part of the community. The main thing when you are raising money is make sure people are having fun while they’re helping you. I think this one is going to be really, really fun.”


 Chris Jarvis



Chris Jarvis, Choir Director at Old High, was a singer in this year’s Karnevale and has already agreed to perform next year. “I love to sing and perform,” he said. “I do lots of stuff at the Wichita Falls Theatre. Any time I get an opportunity to perform something like this, I enjoy doing it.”


Karnevale was appealing because it isn’t a typical theatrical performance, and the style of music isn’t widely performed in Wichita Falls. “We got up and presented a program of 40s war era jazz music. We weren’t in character,” he said of the 2019 Karnevale. “We had a (live) band, which was really cool.”


Karnevale’s performers and committee share Estes’ passion for the arts and bringing it to children. The event is a benefit for the Arts Council Wichita Falls Area, Inc., which is comprised of historic buildings, The Kemp and The Forum. According to the Arts Council’s website, in 2018 Karnevale supported Camp on the Go, comprised of 630 children in 14 camps; Studio Saturday, which brings in an average of 20 children per session; and virtual tours for more than 1,000 students in 24 classrooms and 16 schools.“They just do beautiful things,” Estes said of the Council. 


In her work with children, Estes has seen firsthand how the arts can change young lives for the better. In 2014, she co-founded Backdoor to Broadway, an educational program for theatre arts. The program began at Backdoor Theatre and moved to Midwestern State University. 


Dylan Barrett, of Nocona and now New York City, began attending Backdoor to Broadway performances at age 3. At 15, she decided to sign up for the program’s adult master classes. “It was mostly college-aged kids and I was just beginning high school; I think that's why I was so scared to get up and workshop my song that I prepared,” Barrett said. “I was so overcome with fear that I convinced myself I wouldn't get up.”


Barrett’s mother had spent money on the class and the trips from Nocona to Wichita Falls, so Barrett knew she would be angry. The last day and in the final minutes of the class, she got up and sang Etta James’ “At Last.”



 Backdoor to Broadway


“That child knocked the bricks off the building, and for the first time in all of my teaching, her peers stood and gave her a standing ovation,” Estes recalled. “We always tell the kids, ‘If you’re afraid of something, you have to do it.’”


The experience taught Barrett to believe in herself, she said, and Estes’ support propelled her in the direction of a musical theatre career. Two weeks after graduation, Barrett moved to New York City to attend the American Musical and Dramatic Academy (AMDA). Now a professional actor, Barrett has performed several times at the Broadway Comedy Club and joined the permanent cast of “Let’s Broadway.”


“The work in Wichita Falls as a young girl helped me get a taste of what I really have a burning passion for,” Barrett said. “The mentors I had quickly became people that I looked up to as teachers. The feeling of accomplishment they helped me achieve inspires me to return the favor to others someday.”


Added Estes: “Music touches everyone, so through music you can teach them that they can shine. We get up in front of the children and make a mistake - which you’re going to do; it’s called live theatre - and we laugh it off, shake it off, and keep going, and then they’re OK when they mess up. (At school), if the class laughs at them when they mess up a word, they don’t feel like they’re going to fall through the floor. Going to New York is amazing, but if a kid can give his or her book report with confidence, we’ve done our job. When a child who had been bullied gets up and sings ‘The Star-Spangled Banner,’ you’ve done your job.”


 

 Dylan Barrett


“The mentors I had quickly became people that I looked up to as teachers. The feeling of accomplishment they helped me achieve inspires me to return the favor to others someday.”   

~ Dylan Barrett



Despite having clearly carved out her niche in the Wichita Falls arts community as a performer, producer, director and role model, Estes refuses to take all the credit. “It’s a collaborative effort,” she said simply. “I’ve just been blessed by God and my friends that I am able to put a show together.” †

For more information on the 2020 Karnevale and how the annual event benefits the Arts Council, visit the latter’s website at http://www.artscouncilwf.org/karnevale/







































































Karnevale’s performers and committee share Estes’ passion for the arts and bringing it to children. The event is a benefit for the Arts Council Wichita Falls Area, Inc., which is comprised of historic buildings, The Kemp and The Forum. According to the Arts Council’s website, in 2018 Karnevale supported Camp on the Go, comprised of 630 children in 14 camps; Studio Saturday, which brings in an average of 20 children per session; and virtual tours for more than 1,000 students in 24 classrooms and 16 schools.“They just do beautiful things,” Estes said of the Council. 













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