DIY Show-at-Home Theater Game for You and the Kids

The Patel Conservatory theater department presents a great idea for an easy, fun, at-home performing arts game you can do as a fam.

If you’ve got random household objects plus a restless young’un or two running around, then you’ve got just about everything you need for this quick-to-arrange, easy-to-cleanup theater game from our pros in the Patel Conservatory theater department. It’s DIY arts education at its quarantined best.

Matt Belopavlovich, theater department artistic director, pulled this activity, Personal Prop Stories, straight from the lesson plans of our performing arts school just for you. Plus, we have a specially-recorded demo from our Patel Conservatory theater managing director Audrey Siegler showing you how this game works—recorded from her house with her kids because, hey, we’re all at home right now with 24 hours to fill.

The instructions below are best suited for ages 3-10, but you can adapt it easily by using a more challenging title, the addition of dialogue and a more complex prop selection for a great storytelling improv for older kids.

Here we go!

Lets-Get-Started

Personal Prop Stories
This activity usually fills 15-20 minutes of our drama lesson plan.

What is a prop? An object used on stage by actors during a performance.

What You’ll Need:

Two or more players. The more the merrier!

Something to write on like computer paper, sticky note, used envelope, etc.

Something to write with—i.e., fancy pen, standard pencil, colorful marker, etc.

5 to 10 household items

  • Ideas: stuffed animal, kitchen utensil, piece of home décor, piece of clothing, pantry item, office supplies, gardening tool
  • Suggestion: Try grabbing one or two things from each room in your home.

What-You-Will-Need

Setup:

1. Set out all the props on the floor or a table.
2. Clear a small space to be your stage.
3. Write “Title,” “Characters” and “Opening Line” on your writing material.
4. Choose a Scribe (writer) and Director (activity moderator).
5. Assign a “prop discard” area.

The-Players

Time for Fun:

1. The Director asks the group of actors for a random story title. This could be something silly like “Purple Banana Goes to the Mall.” The Scribe writes down this title on the paper.

  • The title will help everyone stay “on story” as the activity continues.

Title

2. The Director asks for two main characters and an opening line. The Scribe records these on the paper.

  • Main characters example: Purple Banana and Brown Pear (protagonist/antagonist)
  • Opening line example: “Purple Banana needed a new shoe and went to the mall.”

3. The Director counts to three and everyone says the opening line together.

First-Line

4. All actors act out the line.

  • For example, everyone looks at their imaginary old shoe and walks in place as if they are headed to the mall.

5. Each actor gets a turn to be the narrator by choosing a prop and adding a line to the story. Their story moment should be inspired by the prop.

  • Example: If Mom chose a winter hat she might say, “Purple Banana stepped outside and realized how cold it was. He ran back inside to grab his winter hat.”
  • The Director should encourage actors to introduce the second character as the story progresses. For younger actors, encourage the conflict and second character connecting somehow.
  • Example: “Brown Pear stole the winter hat from Purple Banana’s head and ran away.”

Second-Line

6. All actors would then act out the story moment actions such as pantomiming a door and running inside to put on a pantomimed hat.

  • Discard the prop after it has been used in the story.

7. The final actor’s prop should somehow conclude the story. Once their full turn is complete, the Director counts to three again and everyone says, “The End.”

The-End (1)

Prop Story Teaching Tips:

  • Review some simple parts of the story with younger kids such as Beginning, Middle, End, Conflict, and Solution.
  • If playing with only two players, each take two turns, creating four total story moments.
  • Disinfect all props before and after your storytelling journey.
  • Rotate Director and Scribe roles with each new story.
  • Repeat the game as much as you wish with different props.
  • Make up new elements that could be added to the story such as random lines written before the activity and selected out of a hat during or after each story moment.

Most of all, have fun.

Stay tuned: We’ll be back soon with a new performing arts activity you can do at home.

Wiggle Room

The Straz Center’s Wee Folk series is designed specifically for the toddler set. Welcome to the room where wiggling is allowed.

You may not know this, but on the ground floor behind Morsani Hall, we have a large, tall rehearsal room that regularly sees Opera Tampa rehearsals, ballet classes, chamber music practices and the occasional special event.

Children enjoying a show in our Wee Folk Series.

However, three times a year we roll out a cart filled with multi-colored foam squares and interlock those bad boys on the floor of the rehearsal hall for one of our favorite audiences: toddlers.

If you or anyone you know has ever tried to perform for kids—especially tiny tots designed to meltdown easily and go into wild mode with a little bit of sensory overload—then you know it’s a tough gig in show biz. Getting a fun, smart, successful act together for two-to-four-year-olds requires a special skill set, a special personality and a special sense of humor.

Fortunately, we have some great local performers who do an excellent job with this age group, so we book them for our youngest theater-goers. The Wee Folk series features clowning, storytelling and song in a way that little ones love. Plus, we set up the whole environment in the rehearsal hall specifically for performing arts patrons who love to get up and run around, make crazy noises and are relatively new to the whole life-on-earth business. Toddlers get to be toddlers, and parents get a super-affordable live performing arts experience for their kids without the weird social pressure for their kids to behave like adults in public. It’s a win-win.

Lippo The Clown

“The Wee Folk series is as much for the parents as it is for the kids,” says Joel Lisi, who programmed the Wee Folk series for several years, now serves as the Straz Center’s senior programming manager and is the proud parent of a seven-year-old. “We know parents want to bring their children to live theater, but this age isn’t meant to sit still in a dark theater and be quiet. So, we created this three-performance series and designed it with toddlers and parents-of-toddlers in mind. It’s a safe space, you don’t have to be embarrassed if your kid gets up and runs. Or shouts. Or screams. There are other toddlers there, so parents are free to not worry and let the kids be kids.”

This Saturday, we have the second Wee Folk show of the season, Lippo the Clown’s One-Man Family Circus.  “Lippo’s got a certain classic art,” Lisi says. “He’s not creepy, let’s put it that way. He comes from a classic vaudevillian sensibility that shows the beauty of clownship, as it were. He’s a real character that the kids just gravitate to, and he’s great. We’ve also had his other show, The Franzini Family Science Circus here, so we appreciate his philosophy of teaching children while entertaining them on their level. He’s just a class act.”

Katie Adams, Animal Safari Stories

Another Wee Folk hero, storyteller Katie Adams, wraps up the series in May with one of her best-loved programs, Animal Safari Stories.

“All these performers are specialized,” says Lisi. “They don’t get shook because the audience might get a little unruly. Their shows are interactive, short and they know the tricks of the trade for managing an audience of toddlers. It’s really a fun experience for everyone.”

Silly Sam The Music Man

To get your seat on the foam floor, visit strazcenter.org. Our other Family Fun series, Kid Time, is for ages five to eight and graduates kids to Ferguson Hall. If that’s of interest, check it out here.

Guess What? We Made Our Own Custom Fabric Design for Nutcracker

A first for The Straz, the new fabric designs represent a wild collaboration between dance costuming and graphic design.

When people think of the graphic design department in a performing arts non-profit, they may imagine program layouts, banners, signage, logos and the like. They may not consider a couture collaboration to produce custom costumes specifically for dance.

The Straz Center houses an extraordinary ballet training program headed by Philip Neal, a retired principal dancer from New York City Ballet. Our pre-professional ballet company, Next Generation Ballet, stages a knockout production of Nutcracker each season, hosting famous guest artists in the roles of Sugar Plum Fairy and her Cavalier. (This year we’ve got Maria Kowroski from NYCB—the real dancer for the Barbie ballerina movies—and Aran Bell of American Ballet Theatre, who was featured in the Youth America Grand Prix documentary First Position).

Next Generation Ballet students rehearsing for Nutcracker

If you’ve attended NGB’s production of Nutcracker, you already know it is lavish, sumptuous, magical and full of exquisite classical ballet technique. The production’s costumes star as some of the most fun eye candy in this Land of the Sweets, with their detailed faux fur trims, delicate embellishments and delightful array of bold colors. If you haven’t been to Nutcracker yet, then get your tickets for the show this weekend  because you’re in for a treat.

This past summer, NGB costumer Camille McClellan brainstormed with Philip about the possibility of producing designed fabrics that she could customize for NGB dancers. If they could find a local company to print directly to spandex blend textiles, then we could potentially have bolts of fabric for affordable, sustainable, unique-to-NGB costumes.

Costume Designer Camille reviewing plans for one of the new designs for Nutcracker

Philip and Camille decided to revamp the four leopard and 11 butterfly costumes using print-to-fabric technology, which would allow Camille to hand draw the new look Philip envisioned. What they needed to complete the project was the aid of graphic designers to trace Camille’s pattern in Photoshop, convert it to a digital print file and send it to the printer who could ink the design onto stretchable fabric. Then Camille could cut the patterns and sew the costumes together, add embellishments and have them show-ready by this weekend.

To see their idea become reality, Camille and the dance department partnered with Straz graphic designers Joseph LaCrue and Roderick Taracatac to take her designs into the digitally print-ready world.

Camille and Graphic Designers review samples of the custom printed designs.

“What was fun for me,” says Joseph, who worked with Camille for the new butterfly costumes, “was that Camille has been in the costume industry for years, so she automatically started off the project thinking about what the costume would look like under theater lights, how it would read from the back of the audience. That’s where I was really impressed. She’s thinking of not just the dancer; she’s thinking about the audience member … can they see it? Is it going to read? I thought that was really cool.”

Camille estimates she spent about 200 hours over the summer getting the design and measurements of the costumes perfect then painstakingly calculating the exact positions of where the designs needed to be on the fabric so they would line up properly when she cut out the parts and sewed the costume into one piece. She determined she would need three different-sized costumes to accommodate the diversity among the size of the dancers, which meant that she had to repeat the laborious calculations and draw the costume, in full, on graph paper with tick marks denoting where the pattern was to meet upon sewing.

Camille spends countless hours fine-tuning the details to each costume that will be seen on stage during the Nutcracker performances

Joseph then scanned the three life-sized costume drawings, reduced them to scale, hand-traced over them in Photoshop, colorized them and saved the work to a digital file to send to the printer. The anxiety-producing aspect of this project was that there was no margin for error. The calculations, drawings and tick marks had to be perfect, otherwise the pattern wouldn’t align, ruining the entire costume.

“This project was extremely technical. For me, it was two hours to draw the petite, two hours to draw the medium, two hours to draw the tall. This is about as couture as I think you can get in this day and age,” Joseph says. “We talked about why wouldn’t you do this with just dyed fabric and an applique, but the theory is that if we invested in this technology now, we’ll have these costumes for generations to come. I know this was a labor of love for Camille. I think we all learned a lot on this project. It was fun.”

Butterfly costume design for Nutcracker

“The dance department is thrilled to be using this technology, and the graphic designers have been great to work with,” says Camille, who hand-sewed the 15 new costumes, adding arm sheers to the butterflies and gem embellishments to the leopard unitards. “The butterflies were such a challenge because of the scattered design that wraps around the body and a ribbon element that had to match at the side seams in five different locations. I wanted something fantastical for the leopard print and found the inspiration from a Versace ad I saw in a fashion magazine. I gave that to Roderick and said ‘this!’”

“I have created prints and patterns for projects in the past, but never anything that was used for performing art on stage,” Roderick says. “This collaboration was a blast. Camille is a very detail-oriented artist, who had a strong vision of what she wanted the final piece to look like. That took a lot of the guesswork out of the project and really streamlined the creative process. Once the colors were finally nailed down, there was some back and forth on scale of the print, and before we knew it, we had the final product done and out to the printer. Camille named this print Confetti Leopard.”

Camille’s originally named ‘Confetti Leopard’ custom printed fabric

You can see the debut of these new costumes this weekend when NGB’s Nutcracker  dances onto Morsani Hall stage.

Girl Power

The Straz Center arts education partnerships program with Tampa’s The Centre for Girls

In addition to our many performances, lectures, classes and workshops, the Straz Center hosts a super cool outside-of-the-spotlight arts education partnership program which brings us into fruitful, fun and inspiring relationships with many organizations around the area.

This semester, one of our musical theater teachers extraordinaire—Sarah Berland—traveled to The Centre for Girls each Thursday afternoon to give an afterschool theater workshop on the theme of “soaring to great heights.”

Sarah works with various organizations through the Straz Center partnerships

Sarah built her curriculum around the upcoming Broadway show ONCE ON THIS ISLAND, a calypso retelling of The Little Mermaid story, which features a courageous young heroine, Ti Moune, who risks her soul to save a man’s life. Interweaving Caribbean island history, drum and dance culture and fundamentals of storytelling, Sarah and a few guest artists guided the girls into a tight-knit ensemble who wrote and performed their own stories of personal courage. This Thursday, they’ll all attend ONCE ON THIS ISLAND as the culmination of their work together.

“Our partnership with The Straz has been nothing short of amazing,” says Sartura Shuman-Smith, director of The Centre for Girls. “Our girls are so fortunate to have the opportunity to work with professionals in the various areas of performing arts. Through the Straz Center’s program, the girls are not only given an “up close” view of the inner workings of performance, but they are also gaining knowledge in public speaking and confidence building.”

The Centre for Girls exists to create positive change for girls ages 5-14 through innovative programs in fine arts, STEM-based instruction, fashion and ceramics. The center offers a safe place for girls in highly formative developmental years to find empowerment and constructive outlets for self-expression.

Guest artist leading a Caribbean dance class at The Centre for Girls

“Through our arts education partnership program, the participants at The Centre for Girls get a glimpse of all three performing art mediums—music, theater and dance—as well as an unforgettable experience with a mainstage production where Caribbean culture is represented and celebrated,” says Heather Clark, our community partnership coordinator. “We are thrilled to be able to encourage these girls to find expression through the performing arts.”

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.

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.

Together, Wherever We Go

The Straz Arts Education’s Broadway Buddies program unites kids from different learning backgrounds.

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A little bit exchange program, a little bit Big Brother/Big Sister, a little bit theater boot camp and a lot of laughs – that describes the remarkable new program launched by Acting Director of Community Engagement and Education Programs Alice Santana and Lead Theater Teacher Matt Belopavlovich.

Inspired by Hillsborough County Schools’ PEERS program, which pairs a typical student with an IEP [Individualized Education Program] student to form friendships and social skills, Alice and Matt realized our Patel homeschool students wouldn’t be able to participate – and neither would one of our beloved partners, Pepin Academies, because they serve only IEP students.

So, the two made a logical leap – why not start a Straz peer program matching up our Patel Conservatory homeschool students with Pepin Academies students? They coined the program “Broadway Buddies” since the kids would be participating in a graduated curriculum based on theater appreciation. First, simple introductions; then, theater games and pre-and post-activities; the Pepin kids attended a Patel Conservatory kids’ production; the homeschool kids attended a Pepin production; then, they all went to see Anastasia together earlier this month with their new-found appreciation of musical theater and of each other. They even had a Broadway Buddies Barbecue planned prior to the matinee.

“The Broadway Buddies program supports the next generation of passionate arts practitioners and patrons by passing on theater etiquette skills and developing a love of the art form,” says co-creator Matt. “At the same time, it teaches them how to develop and thrive in a more equitable society.”

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All the buddies must agree to a leadership code before they can participate. Each student is expected to learn, practice and demonstrate leadership skills based on mutual respect, hard work, positive attitudes and responsive listening. “Part of an equitable society is making paths to leadership open to everyone,” says Matt. “There’s no better place to give and take direction or explore perspective and problem solve than in creating a work of theater. It’s wonderful to see the kids shine.”

This season’s Broadway Buddies also acted as a pilot group to see if the curriculum would work. Due to the success of the partnership, Alice and Matt hope to broaden the scope of Broadway Buddies next year to include more students and more community partner schools. Each Patel Conservatory student will need to apply for the program since it is designed for the success of young people who want hands-on experience with leadership skills and reaching out to others.

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“It’s the sweetest exchange,” Alice says. “Because going to a different school and being with people you’re not used to being with is hard – at any age. But humans have an inborn desire to find common ground, to laugh and play together, and teach and learn from each other. In this program, we’re guiding kids from different learning backgrounds to peer-support each other through one of the most fun mediums we have – musical theater.”

For more information on the Straz Center Arts Education and Community Partner programs, visit strazcenter.org.

For more information on the camps, classes and workshops in the Patel Conservatory, visit patelconservatory.org.

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