In 1998, director Donna Tellier formed the Thornton Elementary After School Performing Arts Program. For just $3.00 a week, children were able to take dance classes! Donna sewed every child’s costume by hand so that they could be in a show at the end of the year. Parents and their extended families could attend a full-length recital for just $5.00. All of the money raised was given back to the program, with a mission to improve the town’s high school auditorium. One of the much needed items was a stage curtain. The pursuit of a functional curtain would eventually lead to the formation of the Johnston Dance and Performing Arts program (J-DAPA).
While directing the Thornton Elementary After School Performing Arts Program Donna Tellier became the choreographer for the Johnston High School drama department called The Panther Players. After working on several musicals which contained many dance scenes, Tellier saw the need for a dance team at the high school and put together the Johnston High School Dance and Performing Arts program in 2006.
In 2007, the Johnston High School Dance and Performing Arts changed its name to Johnston Dance and Performing Arts (J-DAPA), and became a community theatre program based at the Johnston High School. Tellier felt that the program could be offered to a wider variety of people in the community, while still including the Johnston High School students. Thus, the J-DAPA mission statement was formed – “…keep the arts alive and assist in renovations of the Johnston High School Auditorium”.
With the help of fundraisers, grants, and private donations, J-DAPA is able to install a permanent sound system in the Johnston High School auditorium and build a sound booth to hold the new mixing console and wireless microphones.
J-DAPA becomes recognized as a 501(c)(3) non-profit in the state of Rhode Island.
Using funds raised from A Taste of Broadway and several grants, J-DAPA purchases 12 LED light fixtures and a control console for the Johnston High School auditorium. The equipment is installed just before technical rehearsals begin for Shrek the Musical.
J-DAPA is forced to close its doors as Rhode Island Governor Gina Raimondo orders all public schools to close due to the coronavirus pandemic. Within two weeks, dance classes and rehearsals for the Spring musical, Matilda, are being held over Zoom to keep students engaged.
At the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, J-DAPA learns that they must leave Johnston High School, which they have called 'home' for over a decade. Over the course of a single week, all costumes, props, and sound and lighting equipment are transported to the homes of volunteers.
After a year of searching, J-DAPA's new home is approved by the Town of Smithfield Zoning Board. Construction begins on the new studio in preparation for the 2021-2022 dance season.
J-DAPA's new studio celebrates its grand opening, over 18 months after it was shuttered by the COVID-19 pandemic.