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Adam Pankow is pictured in the shop at the West Fargo High School Theatre. “I like being this person who gets to see all the art happening and all the excitement, and to be reminded why I love theater as much as I do.” Kris Kerzman / The Arts Partnership

Making a Scene: Adam Pankow cultivates young actors at West Fargo High School

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variety Fargo, 58102
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WEST FARGO – Adam Pankow first found his love for theater in the same place he now hopes to inspire a new generation on the sage.

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Pankow, the director of theater at West Fargo High School, directs drama productions and teaches at his alma mater.

He also heads the Summer Arts Intensive, a theater education program designed to give middle school and high school students from across the Fargo-Moorhead area an opportunity to concentrate on theater. The Intensive will culminate in two productions, “Once on This Island,” July 1 and 2, and “Spamalot,” Aug. 1-9.

Q. How did you get started in theater and theater education? A. Actually, I’m a product of this very school. I did a play my eighth-grade year at West Fargo Middle School, but it really was West Fargo High School, this stage, and the director at the time, Mary Knox-Johnson, that really inspired me.

I kind of ran with it post high school. After college was done, I moved down to Minneapolis for a while, gigging little jobs around the country. I did a yearlong stint in Greenville, S.C., some summer stock in Michigan, I was kind of all over the place for a while.

But I found myself one fall between jobs and back in my parent’s basement, you know, that mid-20s dream, and there was an immediate opening at the high school. So I applied to direct this play in 2006, and I would honestly say it totally changed my perspective on things. I loved working with those kids, and I loved what we created together.

I said to myself “I missed something here,” and so I went back to school at (Minnesota State University Moorhead) and graduated in 2009 with my English ed degree.

I directed a show or two a year here while in college so I already had one foot in the door. I started my career here in 2010. West Fargo has been really good to me.

Q. What was it about directing and working with students that made you want to change your career path? A. For me, it was about not being so selfish with my art. As an actor, I was traveling the country and living out of suitcases. It became really self-centered.

The life of the actor is glamorous, I suppose, in some circles, but it wasn’t for me. It wasn’t as satisfying as I would have liked it to be.

So this moment, when I was directing these kids, at first I was like, ‘Oh yeah, some extra money, I can do this.’ But what I loved was the collaboration piece, and for the first time I saw how students and individuals were as excited as I was when I was that age.

Q. What was the need you were looking to fill with the Summer Arts Intensive? A. I had participated in Trollwood Performing Arts School when I was a student, and I participated as an adult while working with West Fargo kids here. I was curious why our kids weren’t taking this awesome opportunity when we have some great actors and actresses on our stage during the school year. A lot of it came down to time, and a lot of kids said this.

It doesn’t come from a place of competition. I just think that kids want to be involved, but not every program is going to fit their time needs or their family needs.

We run a Monday through Thursday program, 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Granted, it’s a large amount of time I’m asking from them, but I have lots of kids who work evening jobs. We have three-day weekends, so family trips and reunions and weddings aren’t a problem. Some of our kids need to work, just based on their financial situation, and I didn’t want those kids to slip through the cracks.

This article is part of a content partnership with The Arts Partnership, a nonprofit organization cultivating the arts in Fargo, Moorhead, and West Fargo, and its online publication, ARTSpulse. For more information, visit www.theartspartnership.net/artspulse.

If You Go WHAT: “Once on This Island”

WHEN: July 1-2

WHAT: “Monty Python’s Spamalot”

WHEN: Aug. 1-9

where: West Fargo High School Theatre, 801 9th St. E.

tickets: Tickets available by calling (701) 499-1971 or by visiting the West Fargo High School website at www.west-fargo.k12.nd.us/schools/wfhigh/activities/drama/

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