Almost 13 years ago, Annie Warf and her husband Scott Craig noticed that there wasn’t a place in Vancouver that offered dance, music and theatre all in one place. The couple wanted to teach the common thread that links music, dance and theatre, and show students how all three are beneficial no matter what discipline you’re pursuing.
It was with those desires in mind that Annie and Scott established Riverside Performing Arts (RPA) in 2007 as the first performing arts academy in Vancouver, with three students and one instructor.
“We started RPA because of our love of the performing arts, teaching and working with children,” Annie said.
Riverside Performing Arts is the first all-inclusive dance, theatre and music training academy and preschool in Vancouver, and Annie said equal emphasis is placed on each performing art. She said classes focus on artistry and collaboration, valuing process over product. RPA instructors are encouraged and supported to be working artists in their fields, which brings a “rich professionalism and detailed technical knowledge to each class.”
“RPA is a place where children explore their own interests as well as being challenged in a safe and nurturing environment,” Annie said.
Riverside Performing Arts is owned by the husband-and-wife duo – Scott is the executive director and Annie is artistic director – but two other family members are also involved in the day-to-day operations. Katie Warf, Annie’s sister, is the office manager; and Tippy Warf, Annie’s mother, works in customer relations for the business.
Since opening in 2007, Annie said RPA has grown quite a bit. She said dance, music and theatre classes steadily increased in size and additional staff was brought on to accommodate the need for more classes. In 2010, the company moved to a larger space on Main Street where they launched another first for Vancouver – their performing arts preschool.
“We hired more instructors and operational staff when the popularity of our programs started to take root in the community,” Annie said. “In 2014, as revenue continued to increase and demand persisted, we moved into a 10,000-square-foot facility in Hazel Dell, which allowed for more specialized class offerings and more flexible space to grow. Today, RPA is home to over 500 enrollments, 14 staff members and is celebrating 12 years of continuous growth.”
As a family owned business, Riverside Performing Arts faces some of the usual challenges. One of those challenges, Annie said, is remembering when to stop working.
“We will forget to leave work at work and start talking about new ideas, struggles, etc. at family dinners or family gatherings,” she said. “We are passionate about the performing arts and our business, but at the end of the day our family is what matters most to us.”
Along with the challenges come benefits, of course, and one benefit that Annie said they experience as a family owned businesses is that they know that they all have the students’ and the business’ best interests at heart. She said they understand the importance of family, which is a daily reminder to help them serve their students and their families the best they can.
“Another benefit to being a family owned business is our familiarity with each other,” Annie said. “We know each other’s strengths and weaknesses. We step in or ask for help when needed and aren’t afraid to speak our minds or work through issues whether they are personal or professional.”
Annie said RPA has a hashtag that they use in their social media – #rpafamily.
“When you take a class at Riverside Performing Arts, you’re part of our family,” she said. “We care about your well being, your other family members and your happiness in every aspect of your life. We want RPA to feel like a second home and place where all fell loved.”
Another essential part of RPA’s success, said Annie, is their preschool. She said building a strong foundation for their students’ positive K-12 experience has proven to their families that RPA is the right place for them. Also, as owners, Annie said they hold their staff in high regard, and the staff is among any private arts schools in Vancouver. Many of RPA’s instructors hold master’s degrees in their discipline and have cultivated curriculum and evaluation criteria that Annie said offers their students a real education in the arts.
Aside from regular classes, RPA also hosts community parties, private events, master classes and retreats. Annie said they also sponsor fundraisers for charities, donate to scholarships and may be the first arts school to sponsor not one but two community sports teams.
“RPA’s end-of-the-year performance culminates in a full musical production where every class is part of the performance,” Annie said. “Whether they be 18 months or 85 years, every student has the opportunity to perform in a professional theatre. This gives our students the chance to show their families what they have been learning, but also what it is like to be in a real production.”
Riverside Performing Arts is located at 1307 NE 78th St., in Vancouver.