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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From Suzuki to Itzhak

Ten-year-old music student Mateo Valdes’ violin journey at the Patel Conservatory.

Mateo Violinist by Rob-Harris-1973

Photo: Rob/Harris Productions, Inc.

Patel Conservatory violin student Mateo Valdes has a very deep and wise gaze under a flop of shaggy, dark bangs. He doesn’t make eye contact much, but when he does, he seems to possess a kind of old-soul way of knowing that belies his slight 10 years of age.

His mother, Natacha, trained in the Suzuki method as a child and continues to practice and play violin today. When her son was old enough to sit for an orchestra performance, she took Mateo to an afternoon concert. Like many people, initial exposure to the arts as a small child awakened his talent.

“I saw the violin,” he says simply. “And I knew right away I wanted to learn to play.” Natacha looked for schools with Suzuki classes, found the Patel Conservatory and enrolled her son in 2013, when he was five years old. The Suzuki method involves a triangle of teaching and learning among the teacher, student and a parent or guardian. So, Natacha and Mateo began this violin journey with Dr. Catherine Michelsen, the string specialist at the Patel Conservatory.

“It was different from what I expected,” Mateo says of his first lessons five years ago. “I had to practice putting my feet in the proper position when I was little and just starting. Catherine had a cardboard thing I had to put my feet on, and we would practice my posture. Then I got into playing. Book 5 is where I am now.”

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Suzuki Violin Camp at the Patel Conservatory, 2017.

But Mateo’s “where I am now” extends beyond the next book in a serial technique. Though he continues to train and learn from his enormous support system at the Patel Conservatory and at home, Mateo’s relationship to music and to his instrument denote a young artist in the dawning of his craft. “He’s been a true joy to teach,” says Dr. Michelsen. “His innate musicality was apparent early on, both in his playing and in his interest in other aspects of music such as improvisation. His sense of dynamics and phrasing is very impressive.”

Mateo’s versatility was impressive enough to land him a spot as one of the youngest violinists in the Suncoast Super Strings, an arm of the Itzhak Perlman Music Program in Sarasota. After rehearsing with an orchestra comprised of students from around Florida, the Suncoast Super Strings performed with Itzhak Perlman himself conducting in December 2017.

“I was very excited,” says Mateo. “I liked performing with so many people. Now that I played in that orchestra, I sort of have an image in my head of where I want to go, where I see myself with the violin. I see myself playing in a big concert and making recordings. And a lot of improv stuff.”

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Mateo gets a shirt autographed by Itzhak Perlman.

Mateo, who studies and practices rigorously, spends much of his free time with the violin recording himself on his computer in improvisations of what he’s learned. “I love improvising,” he says. “I work on my pieces to get better, but I do want to record and do something with that later.”

“I play with Mateo, too,” says Natacha. “I’ve seen a huge development in his technique because of Catherine’s style of teaching but also because he gets boosts with the Patel Conservatory camps. He’s more comfortable, happier with his own playing. I am most pleased about his desire to improvise, though. That’s not me or anybody else. That’s just him.”

Here’s a clip of Mateo improvising:

 

“Playing violin is very fun once you get it,” Mateo says. “After the first six months, I really started to enjoy it. It’s been great for me.”

If you want to get involved with Patel Conservatory summer camps and classes, see what’s available and register now at patelconservatory.org.

 

Mateo’s Teacher Offers Pro Tips for Starting a Child’s Violin Lessons at the Patel Conservatory

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Dr. Catherine Michelsen

We always welcome parents and children to observe the Suzuki violin group classes and lessons! Parents can get a “pass to class” in admissions to observe our Monday afternoon group classes and private lessons throughout the week. Because the Suzuki program has a higher level of parent involvement, we want to make sure that parents and students have a thorough idea of what the program entails. There is no need for parents to have musical experience themselves. However, the triangle of student, parent and teacher is part of what makes it such a rewarding experience. We can also provide help in renting or purchasing an instrument.

Funky Drummer

Fifteen-year-old Patel Conservatory student Meghan Lock: “learning drums is my life.”

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Photo: Rob/Harris Productions, Inc.

Meghan Lock’s formal musical life began like most, with piano lessons at the bright, young age of five years old. But, when her parents realized she was spending more minutes in time out for not practicing than minutes she was playing, they took a different route.

“I was always rhythmic,” says Meghan, “and always beating on my stomach or anything else that I could get to make a beat. So, my parents offered up drum lessons. I had my first lesson when I was 10 years old, and I never looked back.”

Two years later, Meghan met the musical form that would blow her mind: jazz. “When I had my first interaction with jazz … it was like everything made sense. I love jazz,” she says.

In 2017, Meghan threw her drumsticks in the ring for the Hits Like a Girl (HLAG) all-female drumming competition. She walked away the Week Three champion in the under 18 category for her performance of “Manteca,” the Afro-Cuban Dizzy Gillespie standard.

“Before this competition, my drumfluences were all male and the typical drummers you would hear from any jazz drummer … Art Blakey, Ari Hoenig, Max Roach, Chris “Daddy” Dave and Tony Royster, Jr. However, through the HLAG competition, I was exposed to so many talented female drummers from all over the world—it was truly inspiring,” Meghan says. “Now, I look to drummers like Helen de la Rosa, Terry Lyne Carrington and Sheila E. for drumspiration. More locally, I am insanely influenced by Mark Feinman of La Lucha. I totally stalk this band at an almost unhealthy level.”

Meghan joined Patel Conservatory music in 2016 when she landed spots in the jazz improvisation and jazz intensive programs. Studying with jazz teaching artist Matt Weihmuller, Meghan found her home at The Straz. “My first show with the Patel Jazz Combo was the Holiday Market sponsored by the Gasparilla Music Festival and the Junior League of Tampa in November 2016,” she says. “I enjoyed my time with Mr. Matt and never stopped [taking lessons and performing].” Meghan is a regular in the Jazz Combo class on Tuesday evenings at the conservatory as well as an as-needed drummer for Matt Weihmuller’s Saturday jazz improv class.

“I’ve always loved music,” Meghan says. “When I was a baby, my grandma used to carry me around singing everything from opera to country. I have no idea what I’d be focusing on if it wasn’t for drums. Learning drums is my life. Having the opportunity to work with Mr. Matt has definitely made me a better drummer. The relationships and experiences I’ve made with the Patel Jazz Combo are immeasurable … I’ve met so many great and talented people, musicians and otherwise, through the conservatory. I’m so grateful to have found this place.”

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Megan in action. (Photo: Rob/Harris Productions, Inc.)

Meet Meghan

Education: Homeschooled. “I love it. It gives me the flexibility to do what I do with jazz drumming.”

Animal friend: Harvey, a Lhasapoo. “He’s like my brother … we fight like brother and sister, anyway.”

Interests outside jazz: Reading, gaming and longboarding. “I’ve read the Harry Potter and The Unwanted series five times each. I could spend an entire day playing Resident Evil or Minecraft if I ever had the time. My mom and dad have longboards, and we all go to Clearwater Beach and cruise around with a pit stop for ice cream.”

Favorite Patel Conservatory gig: Godspell. “I was asked to play drums for the production—hands down on of my favorite gigs! I had such a great time, the cast was amazing and I learned so much about myself.”

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Megan performing for the Patel Conservatory’s production of Godspell. (Photo: Soho Images)

If you have an interest, curiosity, proclivity or any such thing for the performing arts, chances are we have a class, camp or workshop just for you. Our arts education program ranges from pre-K to adult, so anyone wishing to explore or train in music, dance or theater has a home at the Patel Conservatory. Visit patelconservatory.org for a list of upcoming arts education programs.

 

State Thespian Spotlight: Randy Rainbow

Internet musical parody sensation Randy Rainbow launched his life in musical theater right here on Straz stages when he was a high school Thespian.

As many, many, many, many, many high schools in Florida know, this week is State Thespian Week, when almost 8000 students, teachers, chaperones and judges descend on The Straz and elsewhere in downtown Tampa to compete for top distinctions in this distinguished drama festival.

Flashback: 19 YEARS AGO

It’s 1999. President Clinton is impeached, acquitted then cited for contempt of court. The dot-com bubble looks eternal. Joe DiMaggio dies, the Yankees win the pennant and Carolyn Bassette Kennedy and her husband, John F. Kennedy, Jr., perish in a plane crash. The United States wins the Women’s World Cup (the year we all learn the name Brandi Chastain), and the Dow Jones closes at an unprecedented 11,410. Somebody buys the last New York City Checker cab for $135K at auction. It is the year of the Columbine High School massacre and the highly publicized hate crime against Wyoming man Matthew Shepard. 1999 is the year three white supremacists are convicted of felony murder for the lynching-by-dragging of John Byrd, Jr. Unemployment is at a 29-year low. George W. Bush announces he will run for President.

Yet.

A senior in high school from Plantation, Fla., stands alone on the Morsani stage. He sings his heart out in the number he’s prepared for the Florida State Thespians. He wins for solo musical and, later, with his best friend, an award for comedy scene.

That 17-year-old, defying the world with musical theater comedy, is Randy Rainbow.

Cut to: PRESENT DAY

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First of all, Randy Rainbow *is* his real name.

Second of all, we had no idea he competed (and won, of course) during the Florida State Thespian festival when he was in high school until we had to interview him yesterday for The Straz’s “Behind the Persona” feature for INSIDE magazine. Be sure to check out that Q&A in the Spring/Summer issue out in April.

Third of all, when we found out the Randy Rainbow, who just happens to be a superhero of the internet for defying the world with musical theater comedy, played the Straz stages as a 15-, 16-, 17-year old theater kid and winning, we had to write this blog.

“When I used to do theater competitions, we would do district and state, they were held in Tampa. Florida is where everything started for me,” Randy says, “so it has a special place in my heart.”

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Randy Rainbow comes full circle when he returns to The Straz as an international internet sensation with his hilarious one man show on April 13 .

As it turns out, his time as a Thespian competing against other state actors and meeting other theater kids at The Straz changed his life. “That was a major part of my [early experiences as an actor]. That’s where I came out of the closet, as a matter of fact. At Tampa, at state competition. How appropriate.”

Like many kids who are different, Randy survived school bullies, sharpening his comedy and musical theater chops to get through and graduate to pursue his dreams. In the meantime, Thespians and his annual high school trip to the state drama festival gave him something to look forward to where he was among friends doing his favorite thing in the world.

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Ok, so this isn’t from when Randy was in high school, but it’s pretty cute. (Photo from Instagram: @randyrainbow)

“Yeah. You grow up, and it’s hard to find other drama nerds, really. So once a year, to gather with hundreds of them, I just remember, it was just ecstasy,” he says. “It was so exciting to have other like-minded people nerding out on theater. That was such an important time in my life. I still have such amazing memories of it, and it had such an impact on me. It was joy, absolute. Just … joy.”

Randy Rainbow, like so many artists, took his life experiences and the history he was born to and made his art. Now famous for his political musical parodies as a “woke show queen, comedian, actor, songstress, active-isht, Internet Sensation and TV Personality” [his Twitter description], Randy finds himself able to do something, to speak out and show up politically in visible ways.

But would he consider running for office?

“Hell, no. Let me stick to my comedy.”

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