Let’s Do Something Amazing

Take the Department of Defense, Veterans Affairs, the National Endowment for the Arts, The James A. Haley Veterans’ Hospital and the Straz Center, add an epic effort in community engagement, and you get VetArtSpan. The year-long collaboration culminates this Friday in a free performance event in the TECO Theater featuring veterans, civilians and community leaders.

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When military hospitals began integrating creative arts therapies into treatment for veterans with traumatic brain injuries and psychological health conditions, the success caused a double take in the medical establishment. Arts therapies worked, often when traditional talk or drug therapy plateaued.

The National Endowment for the Arts created a nationwide initiative for veteran healing called Creative Forces®: NEA Military Arts Healing Network. In partnership with the Department of Defense and Veterans Affairs as well as local and state agencies, Creative Forces allowed different stakeholders in the veteran community to come together to implement simple, beneficial strategies to connect vets, their families, arts and the civilian community.

During a Creative Forces forum a few years ago, Straz Center president Judy Lisi and community engagement specialist/artist-in-residence Fred Johnson were inspired to birth the idea of VetArtSpan, a year-long program between The Straz and the James A. Haley Veterans’ Hospital.

Local veterans performing at The Straz in May. Marquis Diaz (top) and Becky Heissler (right) will perform again at the VetArtSpan Showcase on Aug. 30.

VetArtSpan, launched Nov. 15, 2018, is part of Community Connections, the NEA’s second phase of their Creative Forces program. The basic idea of VetArtSpan was to provide a creative bridge to healing, hence the “span” in “artspan.” VetArtSpan’s scope included creating a military cultural education curriculum, participating in the design of arts engagement programs, contributing to increased arts access and expanding arts providers’ understanding of Tampa Bay’s vast military and veteran populations.

In practical terms, the VetArtSpan project launched a website, hosted a series of podcasts on veteran experiences called Stories from the Field, curated interactive online galleries that linked to other creative resources for veterans. VetArtSpan also published stories surrounding veteran creativity and military experiences. The project hosted three veteran-civilian dialogues, closed-space guided conversations, to open doors of understanding between two segments of the population that often struggle with how to talk to each other about the military experience.

This Friday, Aug. 30, participants and collaborators in VetArtSpan appear in a free performance event in the TECO Theater at the Straz Center to showcase the depth and breadth of this multi-part, multi-disciplinary project. The program includes U.S. Air Force veterans Marvin and Melvin Coleman with spoken word, the Veteran Civilian Dance Ensemble performing their work, I am We, Together as One drummers, and two panel discussions—one concerning veterans and the impact of the arts and the other discussing the bridges built between veterans and civilians through the VetArtSpan project.

This celebration is open to the public, free of charge. We hope to see you there.

Collaborating with the Straz Center on the VetArtSpan project are the Florida Department of State, Division of Cultural Affairs, University of South Florida School of Dance, the Morean Arts Center, The James Museum of Western & Wildlife Art, the Brain Science Institute of Johns Hopkins University, the ArtThread Foundation and the Military Resilience Foundation

The Straz Center thanks the National Endowment for the Arts’ Creative Forces initiative for their generous $50,000 grant to develop the VetArtSpan Project.

 

Tampa Bay Theatre Festival 2019

The annual festival, founded by Tampa actor, writer and director Rory Lawrence, takes place at The Straz and other locations Aug. 30-Sept. 1.

Rory Lawrence

In 2013, Rory Lawrence stood on the eve of the inaugural Tampa Bay Theatre Festival. After attending similar theater festivals in Atlanta and D.C., Rory thought Tampa needed one. He had no idea if even ten people would show up to the weekend of plays.

To host such an event, Rory and his team, RL Stage, Inc., needed spaces. He approached The Straz, and we were eager to help him at RL Stage make their vision a reality. “Rory is so talented,” says Straz Center programming manager Jeanne Piazza. “He’s a playwright and actor who produced at least three of his shows in the Jaeb Theater here at the Straz Center prior to the festival. We knew how good his work was creatively and professionally. So, when he approached me about creating a theater festival here in Tampa, we were in full support of his efforts.”

That first year, Rory was shocked when actors, playwrights, theater lovers and arts patrons poured into the shows, thanking him for making the TBTF happen for the local community. Workshops, they said—the festival needs actors’ workshops, please. So, the next year, the TBTF had productions and actors’ workshops. Over time, Rory brought in professionals such as The Blacklist star Harry Lennix and Tyler Perry’s Why Did I Get Married? actress Tasha Smith for acting master classes and boot camps.

This year, The Straz is proud to host several TBTF events including the short play competition; acting, directing and writing workshops; Rory’s full-length play Fighting God and the final night’s awards party. A true community event, TBTF performances take place at several theaters in the area. Catch full-length plays The Consciousness, (RE)UNION and Filthy Gentlemen at Hillsborough Community College. The productions of Filtered, Bobby is Dead and CLAVICO! A Most Peculiar Musical Comedy appear at Carrollwood Players, and Stageworks Theater hosts Paper Walls and Black Women Walking.

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“Our involvement and support of the Tampa Bay Theatre Festival helps foster their vision of uniting artists and theater lovers for an incredible weekend,” Jeanne says. “By opening both our stages and rehearsal spaces for various performances, competitions and workshops over the TBTF weekend, The Straz is able to fulfill our mission of being a place where local performers feel welcome and at home.”

For complete details of workshops, teachers, performances and locations, visit the Tampa Bay Theatre Festival schedule at http://tampabaytheatrefestival.com.

Find Your Perfect Match with The Florida Orchestra

TFO public relations manager Kelly Smith takes over our blog this week with some pro tips for finding your perfect concerts in the new orchestra season. The Straz is a proud partner with The Florida Orchestra, who holds many of its concerts here.

Guest blog by Kelly Smith, public relations manager, The Florida Orchestra

Deciding on an orchestra concert is a lot like dating. You’re looking for similar interests, that special something that makes your skin tingle and your heart race. On the morning after, no one wants to wake up disappointed. Since the Straz Center has more than 20 Florida Orchestra concerts to choose from when the season opens in September, here are five insider tips to help you find concerts you’ll love.

Michael Francis conductor, The Florida Orchestra, Mahaffey Theater, March 23, 2019

If you love, love, love Beethoven
This is your happy place, supersized. Not only is Music Director Michael Francis celebrating the 250th anniversary of Beethoven’s birth, but he’s doing it with rare performances of the Mahler versions of both Beethoven’s Fifth (May 1) and Eroica Symphony (Oct. 11). What does that mean? Often called “Beethoven on steroids,” the Mahler versions are the original symphonies, with a few tweaks, powered by an orchestra much larger than Beethoven could have ever imagined in his day. It’s the Beethoven you know, just bigger, bolder. What’s not to love? Plus TFO will perform Beethoven’s Violin Concerto (Feb. 21), Piano Concerto No. 3 (Jan. 17), and lots more. All part of the Tampa Bay Times Masterworks series.

Maximilian Hornung Photo: Marco Borggreve

If looks matter
This is a visually stunning concert you can see only one weekend in October, only with The Florida Orchestra. That’s when TFO debuts an exclusive art film to tell the story of Strauss’ Don Quixote (Oct. 11), combined with live orchestra and German cello soloist Maximilian Hornung. The film features paintings by local artist Geff Strik, who also illustrated Schoenberg’s Transfigured Night with TFO last season. Michael Francis conducts. Another concert to consider is National Geographic Symphony for Our World (Nov. 2), a full film of breathtaking wildlife scenes with live orchestra.

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If you’re into rock more than classical
Try REVOLUTION: Music of the Beatles – A Symphonic Experience (Oct. 4). If you’re looking for another Beatles tribute show, this isn’t it. This one uses hundreds of rare photos and video, along with top vocalists, to take you through the history of The Beatles as told through their hits, such as “Penny Lane,” “Get Back,” “Here Comes the Sun” and “Hey Jude.” Big bonus: Grammy winner and TFO Pops Conductor Jeff Tyzik did all the orchestra arrangements using the original Abbey Road recordings. Part of the Raymond James Pops series.

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If you’re looking for great sax
Go ahead, name one classical orchestra piece that features saxophone. Yeah, not easy. Philip Glass’ lyrical Concerto for Saxophone Quartet is full of surprises, played by the Rascher Saxophone Quartet, who has performed in all the major concert halls throughout Europe. A little secret to watch for: Members of the Rascher ensemble will join the orchestra ranks for Gershwin’s An American in Paris – another rare orchestra piece that includes sax. All part of TFO’s American Masters concert (Feb. 14), which also features Bernstein’s Candide Overture. Stuart Malina conducts.

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If you need your space
With the 50th anniversary of the moon landing this year, TFO is focused on the galaxies like everybody else. A stellar concert that might not be on your radar is Deep Field: A Cosmic Experience (Nov. 8) with Grammy winner and superstar composer/conductor Eric Whitacre. It goes deep into the stars with Whitacre’s symphonic Deep Field, featuring a film of Hubble Telescope images. There’s also Out of this World (Feb. 28), a Raymond James Pops concert with music from Star Trek, E.T., Holst’s The Planets and more. And if date night needs to turn into family time, try TFO’s new full-orchestra, interactive Family Concerts (Oct. 27), which kick off with One Giant Leap, featuring NASA video of the lunar surface and space-themed music, along with the Instrument Petting Zoo for kids to try out instruments.

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Make a date with us
Tickets to all Florida Orchestra concerts are on sale now at FloridaOrchestra.org. Some deals to keep in mind: Compose Your Own tickets are only $25 each when you mix and match three or more Masterworks and Pops concerts. Student and military tickets are $10, available 1 hour before the concert. Kids and teens get in free to all Masterworks concerts with a paying adult with Classical Kids & Teen tickets, available in advance through the TFO Ticket Office.

Let’s ROCK

Meet classically-trained Philly pop punk rocker Kevin Sitaras, director of the Patel Conservatory’s super popular Rock School.

Rock School at the Patel Conservatory puts together people who want to be in a rock band. The drummer may be a 65-year-old retiree, the guitarist a seventh-grader, the lead singer a recent transplant working her first professional job at a bank in downtown Tampa. The point is, Rock School is for anyone and everyone who wants to rock.

Caught in the Act is thrilled to introduce you to the director, Kevin Sitaras. You can come see Kevin and his Rock School crew shred at the End-of-Summer Music Blowout this Wed., Aug. 7.

Raised by his classically-trained opera singer mother and classic rock drummer dad, Kevin absorbed the best of both worlds, learning Strauss and Slayer, Giacomo Puccini and Getty Lee. He took to music like a duck to water, playing in metal and rock bands, then having dreams fall through like they do on the artist’s road. He walked away from music, but the move didn’t suit him well. Under the strong encouragement of his girlfriend who was tired of living with a musician not playing music, he looked for another band, hitting up the Philadelphia Craigslist until he found a pop-punk band who needed a drummer. Kevin traded a few emails with one of the members, then heard nothing for a year.

“So, a year later, I got another email from him out of nowhere,” Kevin says. “Their drummer wasn’t going to do a tour they were about to go on, so he asked if I’d tour with them. I said, ‘yeah, absolutely.’ I walk into the audition just as their drummer’s walking out. So, it went from ‘you’re going to be the touring drummer to well, it looks like you’re it.’”

Kevin playing guitar with his students during a Rock School Blowout performance at Skipper’s Smokehouse. (Photo: Soho Images)

The band, Rivers Monroe, had picked up some notice on the Philly circuit, landing a manager of some prominence – in the country music scene (he helped break Taylor Swift). Thus, the hard-drumming, happy anarchists found themselves sponsored by NASCAR, gigging at NASCAR tracks throughout the country. “It was so cool to do because I got to meet race car drivers and be on the track while the race was going on, but that’s a lot of fans to play to who don’t like your kind of music,” Kevin laughs. “In a weird way, we fell in love with it, and we did end up getting some fans from the NASCAR tour and our music on a NASCAR video game.”

Rivers Monroe graduated from NASCAR to what Kevin hails as the best diet in the world – the Warped Tour. In 2015, Rivers Monroe joined the two-week hell-on-earth that is dragging your hundreds of pounds of equipment across miles of parking lots to set up during the summer heat, sit out in the summer heat, then play in the summer heat, then break down your equipment and lug it back to the bus for the next town – in the summer heat.

Photo: Soho Images

“It’s physically demanding,” Kevin says about working the Warped Tour. “You’re outside for 16 hours a day in 100-degree heat. You do that for 10 days straight. You have gear, a merch table. You’re pulling your stuff up and down hills. I lost 15 pounds in two and a half weeks. It makes me think back to when I was a kid and would see guys on the Warped Tour. I’d stick around to talk to them and some of them weren’t that nice, but I get it. I’m not saying that’s okay because when fans came up to me I was always like ‘Thanks so much: I slept three hours last night, have a horrible sunburn, I’ve changed my clothes three times and it’s only four o’clock but thank you so much for coming!’ I’m just saying I got why Warped Tour musicians just wanted to get on the air-conditioned bus after their show.”

After a successful run on the Warped Tour with Rivers Monroe, Kevin returned to his passion for songwriting, going solo and meeting some friends along the way. A good pal moved to St. Petersburg, and Kevin, like any sane person, hates winter. The lure of a singer-songwriter life in the land of sunshine led him to this neck of the woods, and a rather unlikely perfect circumstance brought him to the Patel Conservatory at the Straz Center.

Kevin with Rock School students during a performance in the Jaeb Courtyard earlier this year. (Photo: Soho Images)

Kevin, who also drives for Uber, picked up a ride one day in 2018 – a certain outgoing raven-haired theater teacher – shortly after he moved to the Tampa Bay area. They struck up a conversation. She mentioned she taught theater for a performing arts school in Tampa; he mentioned he was a musician and had taught at a rock school in Philadelphia. The woman turned out to be the Patel Conservatory’s Sarah Berland. “I told Sarah about working at the rock school in Philly and she was like, ‘oh, yeah, I think we’re looking for a Rock School instructor at The Straz.’ I gave her my email address and said ‘shoot me an email and we’ll talk.’ We went back and forth, she put me in touch with Dr. [Lauren] Murray [head of the music department], and I was hired. I was so happy. The Rock School program here is incredible, so this is a dream opportunity for me.”

Dr. Murray, who gave Kevin full license to shape the program from his scope and expertise, is more than happy to welcome her newest staff member aboard. “Kevin is pleasure to work with and has made a huge impact on our program,” she says. “He’s a terrific teacher, he genuinely cares about making a difference and his rock school students made amazing progress in such a short time. I can’t wait to see what the next year brings.”

To study with Kevin Sitaras and experience the face-melting joy of living to rock, go to patelconservatory.org and search under music classes.