Cody Walls brings talent from stage to Community School of the Arts

<br>Cody Walls brings talent from stage to Community School of the Arts

Cody Walls did not imagine himself a teacher. Although he is quick to credit his teachers for his success, he always saw himself on stage, not out front guiding the show.

Like so many other things, Walls’ perspective was changed by the pandemic. After work with Arkansas Shakespeare Theatre and Murry’s Dinner Playhouse in Central Arkansas, he was on the road doing a children’s show with Bright Star Touring Theatre of North Carolina in 2020 when everything theatrical shut down. From the River Valley — he went to Alma and Southside high schools and studied musical theater at Ouachita Baptist University — Walls came home for the duration, working as a barista to make ends meet.

“Towards the end of 2020, Community School of the Arts reached out to me about teaching some voice lessons part time,” he picks up the story. “I agreed, but was very clear that teaching wasn’t what I wanted to do long-term. In fact, I told them that when theaters reopened, I would go back to performing.

“It’s funny to think about because here we are almost three years later, and I’m now the director of theater at CSA. As the director of theater, I oversee all theater elements of our organization. I connect with potential teachers, I choose the season, manage all productions and coordinating people, as well as directing and still teaching some voice. I love my job and am so thankful for the opportunities I’ve had through CSA!”

CSA, Walls explains, was established in 2016 in Fort Smith to provide “high-quality instruction in music, theater, dance, and visual art.”

“Children, youth, and even adults can participate in after-school, evening and weekend classes and lessons,” he says. “If you have an interest in taking lessons in voice, piano, violin, cello, percussion, or even joining a theater company, we have it all!”

What CSA didn’t have was connections in New York City — and Walls has found a way to fix that. During spring break, he’ll take a troupe of seventh- through 12th-graders — a total of 40, including adult teachers and chaperones — to spend five days in the Big Apple, attending shows, studying with professionals and seeing the sights.

“I began thinking about New York City around this time last year,” Walls explains. “I love to think outside the box and get students hands-on opportunities where they can learn things that cannot be taught in a classroom or rehearsal. I reflected on the experiences I had in college and high school, which were all really great. [But] what I was missing most was the real-world experience.”

As a senior in college, Walls went to New York City as a student, not a tourist.

“I was able to learn so much about myself as an artist,” he says. “I wished I had an opportunity like that as a high school student. I wanted to give our students an opportunity to see Broadway shows, connect with artists, and be inspired by the art they see. This specific experience will be once in a lifetime.”

The students will leave just a week after their next production, “Footloose,” March 10-11. With a cast of 45, it’s Walls’ most ambitious undertaking yet.

“My goal in teaching theater is to inspire and empower kids to do great things, believe in themselves, and to achieve greatness wherever they go,” he says. “I was inspired by wonderful people that I looked up as a kid to follow my dreams and to always work hard. People tend to stick their noses up at youth theater, but let me tell you, youth arts is really the reason I am where I am today. The arts matter. Without every single experience I had growing up, I wouldn’t be where I am.

“Kids are also just so creative, fun and talented,” he adds. “Working with them and getting them to unlock their potential is what I love most. Giving them life skills that can be applied to any career path is my ultimate goal.

“CSA is growing, and we are creating opportunities like this that align with our mission and where students will learn things that cannot be taught in a classroom,” Walls concludes. “This trip is just the beginning of the great things that are to come for students in our area.”


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