We Know the Mission

Straz Salutes is an organizational mission to make sure our military and veteran communities know they have a place at The Straz. We provide tickets, outreach programs and presentations for military, veterans and their families.

We’ve always had a soft spot for military, veterans and their families, which is why we’ve offered discounted tickets for our armed forces guests for years. Since 9/11, the country as a whole has seen more wounded warriors return home with visible and invisible injuries sustained in the line of duty. Since we regard our military with the utmost respect, we, like most civilian organizations, needed some first-hand guidance about how to say, ‘hey, we’re here for you in more ways than just tickets’ and still honor the warrior’s code of stoicism regarding pain.

We know people in the military and their families have chosen a tough path. It is our earnest desire to demonstrate that the performing arts can allow safe passage back to self and home.

We call our initiative in this endeavor Straz Salutes.

Cast of Diavolo’s The Veterans Project in rehearsal at The Straz.

As more research and media emerged explaining the positive effects of the arts for PTSD and traumatic brain injury (TBI), we realized we had a duty to implement greater efforts to build stronger ties to our military community. Simultaneously, we explored national movements in arts and healing as well as worked with a creative arts therapy network for PTSD and TBI, Creative Forces, a partnership between the National Endowment for the Arts and the Department of Defense, Veterans Affairs.

Soon after, the Straz Center community engagement department began direct efforts to initiate visual art, performance collaborations and community conversations with our military community. The Straz received a grant from Creative Forces to launch the VetArtSpan project with the James A. Haley Veterans Hospital for the 2018-2019 fiscal year. The project, spearheaded by our community engagement specialist Fred Johnson, resulted in the VetArtSpan website that includes podcasts, a visual art gallery, helpful information for civilians. The VetArtSpan project culminated in a live performance of veteran artists at The Straz on Aug. 30 this year.

Local veterans and dancers work together to create a meaningful and memorable performance with Diavolo.

These efforts—discounted tickets, our education from national organizations, direct community involvement as well as military-themed programming—converged into a united push to bridge any gaps between us, our military and their families. The different prongs needed unification under one initiative: thus, our over-arching program, Straz Salutes, was born.

The sum of our efforts to reach, meet and support the whole scope of the military community, Straz Salutes appears on the 2019-2020 season in many forms. Our Straz Salutes logo denotes specific performances relating to or of particular interest to our military community, including the United States Air Force Concert Band on Oct. 26 and longtime veteran advocate and country music star Aaron Tippin on Oct. 22. Our ongoing community engagement efforts resulted in some spectacular collaborations, most notably the Diavolo Veterans Project and the Medal of Honor visual art exhibit.

Veterans and dancers from the Tampa Bay area participated in a few weeks of intense dance training with Diavolo earlier this year.

Diavolo, a performance art group based in Los Angeles, made an open call for local dancers and veterans in the Tampa Bay area to participate in a two-week intensive to create a dance to be performed in Diavolo’s Oct. 25 show in Morsani Hall. The piece, A Long Journey Home, held to a demanding 5-hour-a-day, six-days-a-week schedule, and is slated to be the centerpiece of their eye-popping Straz Center program.

At the beginning of October, we unveiled our newest exhibit on the Riverwalk which features the visual art of students from the tri-county area who participated with us as part of the Medal of Honor convention being held in Tampa this year. The kids were given a virtue of the Medal of Honor—”the highest award for valor in action against an enemy force”—to depict upon a coin. The top seven artworks were reproduced physically and now hang upon the panels of the Riverwalk gallery to coincide with the Medal of Honor convention Oct. 22-26. The community engagement department also sent Fred Johnson, himself a veteran and artist who is heavily involved in the Diavolo project as well, to MacDill Youth Center to teach bucket drumming for the children living on MacDill Air Force Base.

Diavolo’s The Veterans Project aims to exemplify strength and emotion through it’s unique dance techniques.

Alice Santana, acting director for the community engagement and education programs, envisions growing more community partnerships through Straz Salutes, formally and informally. “Our job is to accomplish the goal of making sure our military and veteran community feels 100% welcomed here. Straz Salutes is also about equity. If we have something going on in these walls that can help these families get their minds off the past, current deployments or the strains of military life, we want them to have access to our performances, our programs, our campus. We are approachable, we’re open to suggestions and we are continually looking for input from active military and veterans on what we can do better,” she says.

Don’t miss our Straz Salutes performances and events this Oct. For tickets and more information, visit strazcenter.org

Come with Me, and You’ll Be, in a World of Pure Imagination

Patel Conservatory theater instructor Joe Herrera teaches students at Burnett Middle School that you can find yourself (and change the world) with a little imagination. Caught in the Act welcomes Straz Center media relations manager Alex Stewart as our guest blogger this week.

by Alex Stewart, guest blogger

Let’s play a theater game. I want you to imagine you have a long, skinny neck. Now, walk around the room as if you have one. Project how that would look. Would it influence the way you walk? Would your voice sound different? How would this change your overall appearance? Next, do the same as if you have a short, fat neck. Does that change your voice? Your behavior? Now, act as if you have long, green finger nails. Does that make you feel like a creepy witch? Or more like Cardi B with her signature blinged out nails?

Do you feel weird yet? Good. Because this is a no judgment zone – and here at The Straz, that’s what we strive for. Be weird. Be yourself. And have fun with it.

This fall, students at Burnett Middle School, a Title I school in Seffner, are learning how to be their weird, true selves through theater games just like this – and discovering how to bring their unique personalities into the characters they are aiming to create.

Joe meets the class in the school auditorium theater where they warm up with theater games.

Patel Conservatory theater instructor Joe Herrera and Burnett Middle School drama/English teacher Cathy Cromar are teaching students acting and characterization techniques using Roald Dahl’s Charlie and the Chocolate Factory as inspiration, just in time for the Broadway show’s arrival to The Straz. This class is made possible by the Straz Center’s Arts Education Partnership Program, which partners with agencies, schools, community organizations and after-school programs to expose children and adults to the life changing benefits of the arts – at no cost to them, thanks to donors and grants. How sweet is that?

Look, it can be expensive to go to the theater. You need transportation, money for parking, and let’s not forget the cost of the actual ticket itself. And what if you want to treat yo’ self? That candy bar in Morsani Lobby is tempting. Simply put, not everyone can afford access to the arts. With arts classes and programs being cut out of school curriculums, some kids might get no exposure to them, which is why the Arts Education Partnership Program is so important.

Coaching individual students on finding the courage to perform.

Burnett Middle School has been a community partner for several years, but this year the program was able to provide students with free tickets to Roald Dahl’s Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and cover the costs of transportation to the theater, in addition to the eight-week class Joe is teaching.

“Many of my students have never been to a live performance or ever taken part in one,” says Cathy. “The students come away from this experience with an appreciation for this art form, knowledge of theater etiquette, which we stress in our class, and the ability to step outside your comfort box and perform, even if you’re frightened to do so.”

The class encourages students to explore and discover the crazy characters from Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, using their imagination to create their own versions of some of the iconic characters. The goal being to break these students out of their shells – to use these characters to learn about themselves and to gain confidence and focus in their everyday lives.

Joe shares his expertise from his career as a professional actor in the Anton Chekov technique to build trust and guide students’ acting choices.

“My process into theater making and acting has always been the imagination,” says Joe. “And I think when you look at the story of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, whether it’s the musical or the film versions or even the novel, there are so many different themes,” says Joe. “But what resonates for me as a human being and as an artist, it’s the idea that nothing’s impossible. It’s tapping into that inner child. And I think that what I’m starting to see more and more these days with kids is that they’re losing their inner child, even at a young age.”

When the class first started, many of the students hadn’t seen the movie or read the book, so Joe prompted them to use their imaginations to create their chosen character based on the character names alone. The students were asked to write a diary entry from the perspective that they were a Golden Ticket winner, to help them understand and explore the emotional aspects of their character. Next, they were asked to add physicality, and imagine what that would look like. “If you were Willy Wonka, how would you walk? Is he old? Does he have a limp? Show me that,” asks Joe.

After the students see the show at The Straz on October 10, they will be asked to draw their character, free form and uncensored. And if it’s nothing like the book, movie or musical? Perfect. “There’s no right or wrong when you’re using your imagination,” says Joe. The class culminates with the students performing monologues based on their diary entries, incorporating the emotional, physical and visual techniques they’ve learned throughout the class.

“You’ll hear me say this a lot – there’s no right or wrong in theater. My goal is to create an atmosphere of fun-ness, so that they can break out of that shell of right and wrong, that they are so used to in school. And there’s room for that – but with art there isn’t. It’s a basis of you. You are the expression of that thing,” Joe says.

Participating in the “silly shapes” games that asks actors to improvise shapes in order to discover their physicality onstage.

And fun-ness, Joe delivers. Students participate in a range of activities and theater games during the class, from creating twisty shapes with their bodies to working together to build a “sound machine” of different noises. The students are active most of the class, learning to make friends with each other and the space.

While theater games and drama class can be fun, kids learn skills from the arts that can help them in everyday life. “I want them to see that this is not just a class ‘to have fun’ … we’re actually learning skills that can benefit us elsewhere, like doing a presentation in class,” says Cathy. “Joe is such a positive, animated actor; this rubs off on the kids. I can see that they trust him and will try anything he asks them to do.”

Each class ends with a round table evaluation of what students learned and what they can take from the class into their everyday lives.

The arts not only boost students’ academic achievements, but they help them figure out who they are. The arts allow them to be creative, collaborate and problem solve, among many other benefits, which sets them up for success in future careers.

“What can theater do? What can the arts do? It can bring out that self-expression,” says Joe. “I explained to the students that there are many different individuals that I’ve come across. They start out in a theater class or an acting class, and yet, they’re not actors. They’re working in other areas. They’re businessmen or businesswomen, they’re public speakers or they’re lawyers. And what it does, is it helps you to identify who you are, number one. And number two, it helps you to communicate so that you can achieve the things that you want.”

Ultimately, Joe wants his students to be able to find their true, authentic selves, and for them to know that nothing is impossible, just like Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.

“The golden ticket for you may not be theater. It may not be art, it may not be acting. But what I’m trying to introduce to them is to tap into the inner you. The you that is so pure, the you that is so true, the you that is so authentic. The you that the world needs because that’s why you are here.”

Get your tickets for Roald Dahl’s Charlie and the Chocolate Factory today before the Wonka factory rolls out of Tampa.

What The Heck Is A Spymonkey?

This Q&A from the cast of Hysteria sheds a little light on the renowned British troupe and will hopefully get you even more excited to see this exclusive United States debut at The Straz.

"Cooped", Spymonkey, Liverpool Playhouse, Liverpool, Britain - 05 June 2019

The cast of Spymonkey’s Hysteria. (Photo: Jane Hobson)

How would you describe Spymonkey to a stranger?

Aitor Basauri (joint artistic director, performer): Spymonkey is a unique and original form of funny theatre. You see a theatre play, but you laugh a lot, too.

Toby Park (managing artistic director, performer): A glorious bunch of idiots who like to make seriously ridiculous theatre.

Stephan Kreiss (associate artist, performer): Spymonkey is a highly precise and accurate depiction of what Europe seems to feel like at the moment. Two European countries (Spain and Germany) represented by – two idiots! The U.K. – represented by – two idiots! Three men = three idiots! One woman – also an idiot! But the difference is – we know and have shown to each other on numerous occasions that we are idiots and therefore get along pretty well these past two decades … The world would perhaps be a nicer place if people would admit to their foolishness.

Bill Barberis (performer): Stupid idiots pretending to be wonderful dramatic actors. Or the other way around? Anyway, you’ll laugh your heart out.

Anne Goldmann (performer): Clown, physical comedy, surrealist slapstick, raunch melodramatic Da Da-ism, the-real-edge-of-edgy. Pure delight, a gut-wrenching laugh factory. Everything I always wanted to see a group of people do on stage. World-class brilliantly idiotic performance art theatre group.

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L to R: Aitor Basauri, Toby Park, Stephan Kreiss, Bill Barberis, Anne Goldmann.

Is this Spymonkey’s first time performing in the United States? If not, where could Straz audiences have seen you before?

Toby: Our first visit to the U.S. was in 2001 at the Aspen Comedy Festival (disco dancing with George Lucas anyone?) and at the tiny Theatre LaB in Houston with our show Stiff. We spent two years living in Las Vegas, being the clowns in Cirque du Soleil’s burlesque show Zumanity, for which we created the comedy numbers. And we took our Complete Deaths (four clowns perform all the deaths in Shakespeare in one night) to Chicago Shakes a couple of years ago.

Aitor: I very much enjoyed the time we had in Houston and every time we have played in the U.S.A. So, I am really looking forward to playing in the U.S.A. again as I feel there is a real appetite for comedy at the moment.

Stephan: When I lived in Las Vegas 16 years ago, I did regular late night shopping at Vons at East Tropicana Avenue – so maybe some members of The Straz audience who visited Las Vegas then might have seen me there?

What are you most looking forward to about performing at The Straz and being in Tampa?

Toby: Really looking forward to making Tampa audiences fall out of the seats laughing. Hoping that there aren’t too many hurricanes, as we heard that those are quite impressive, and we couldn’t resist renting a house on a river. Stephan is convinced that we will be fending off alligators every night. There are some big surfing fans in the company, so we anticipate a number of Sunday night dashes across to the Atlantic coast to catch some waves.

Aitor: I am really looking forward to the good weather. It is nice to play where it is hot. I think people laugh more when it is hot. We have been playing Hysteria for many years, and we have never played it in the U.S.A., so I would like to find out how it goes with the new changes.

Stephan: It is just brilliant to play and tour our shows abroad. New audiences, new and fresh audience reactions, new laughter. The excitement when you open somewhere new and you feel the sizzling curiosity of how it will go down. Plus, Florida for me, being German, is such an exotic location. The sun, heat, humidity, palm trees and alligators in kitchens.

Anne: I’m excited to find out what makes the audiences respond and laugh. Every audience is different, and I love to find out what makes each one unique. The best Thai food I ever had was in Florida, so I’m hoping to revisit fine cuisine. And I really love the natural beauty of Florida. I can’t wait to take some walks and enjoy the nature.

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Describe Hysteria in five words.

Anne: Surreal Fantasy Gothic Romance Comedy

Toby: Funniest show you’ll ever see

Aitor: A funny piece of theatre

Stephan: Wet yourself with hysterical laughter

 

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