Little-Known Facts about the Widely-Known Songs in SHOUT! The Mod Musical

SHOUT! The Mod Musical opens tomorrow, so now is the perfect time to take a strut down memory lane with a few of the show’s mega-hits from the 1960s. We put together this fab list of choice info to give you the skinny on some of the most popular songs in the show. It’s a gas, baby.

Photo By Rob/Harris Productions, Inc.

  1. Wishin’ and Hopin’

The *other* 60s throwback, Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery¸ put Burt Bacharach back on the screen in one of the best scenes in the movie, a cameo featuring “What the World Needs Now.” Because, what’s a swingin’ Sixties story without Burt Bacharach? The smoother-than-a-lounge-sofa composer first wrote “Wishin’ and Hopin’” for Dionne Warwick (aunt of Whitney Houston). Dusty Springfield heard Dionne’s recording and loved the song so much she went out and recorded her own version two years later. Dusty Springfield, of course, is best known for another song revived by the movies …

  1. Son of a Preacher Man

Welp, we dare you to hear Dusty Springfield’s version of this song and not think about Pulp Fiction. We’re pretty sure the scene of Vincent (John Travolta) picking up Marsellus Wallace’s wife Mia (Uma Thurman) at their house would not have been as fraught with temptation had Tarantino picked any other song. In fact, Tarantino claimed later he wouldn’t have shot the scene had he not be able to set it to “Son of a Preacher Man.” The song sits at slot 43 of the greatest singles of all time according to the writers at New Musical Express. Dusty Springfield, of course, is a stage name. She was born in London as Mary Isobel Catherine Bernadette O’Brien. That’s a lot of names, kind of like the woman who sang …

  1. To Sir, With Love

… who was Lulu, born Marie McDonald McLauglin Lawrie. Lulu is certainly easier to remember. “To Sir, With Love” hit No. 1 in 1967, the theme song of the film To Sir, With Love starring Sidney Poitier as a teacher doomed or destined (depending on your perspective) to save a class of wayward youths at a school in dodgy east London. Lulu made her film debut in the movie, going on to win bit parts in other films including 2016’s Ab Fab: The Movie.  Don Black, the lyricist for “To Sir, With Love,” also wrote the lyrics to the 60s hit “Born Free” and the theme songs to the Bond films Diamonds are Forever, The Man with the Golden Gun, Tomorrow Never Dies and The World is Not Enough.  Which brings us to …

  1. James Bond Theme/Goldfinger

Probably one of the most recognizable movie theme songs next to Jaws, the James Bond Theme carries a bit of intrigue around its creation. Credited to Monty Norman, whose been earning royalties from the music since 1962 when he composed the piece for Dr. No, there’s been some pushback from John Barry, who wrote “007 Theme” for From Russia with Love. {Some will argue the circumstances for Sidney Poitier in To Sir, with Love were much more dangerous than for Sean Connery in same title except From Russia]. John Barry indisputably wrote “Goldfinger” for that Bond film with the unashamedly over-acting diva Shirley Bassey belting out the theme song with her unmistakable “GooooldFINGAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA” which has been a joy to replicate for everyone covering the song thereafter. As of this writing, the great diva Dame Shirley Bassey is still alive and performing this very song.

  1. Georgy Girl

As long as we’re talking divas, let’s start by mentioning Lynn Redgrave starred as Georgy Girl in the film, which was her breakout role about a young woman coming-of-age in Swingin’ London. It’s a perfect song for SHOUT!, which is all about women like Georgy. The theme song “Georgy Girl,” performed by The Seekers, made them the first Australian folk group to get major success in the US and UK. The song hit No. 1 in 1965, and, in 1967, The Seekers were named Australians of the Year. And, guess who wrote the music to “Georgy Girl”? Tom Springfield—Dusty’s brother. His birth name was Dionysius P.A. O’Brien. At this point, we’re beginning to suspect Dusty and Tom had very interesting parents. And you know who did have interesting parents …

  1. These Boots are Made for Walkin’

Nancy Sinatra. Eldest daughter of Old Blue Eyes Frank and mom Nancy, this woman was destined for the charts. Her No. 1 hit, “These Boots are Made for Walkin’,” has been covered by a surprisingly diverse crowd that includes Billy Ray Cyrus, Megadeath and Ella Fitzgerald. Lee Hazlewood wrote “These Boots are Made for Walkin’,” and he’d later write the theme song for Frank Sinatra’s detective movie, Tony Rome¸ which he got Nancy to perform. Lee and Nancy collaborated all the way up to 2004. Hazlewood confessed in an interview that the catch phrase of this song, “one of these days these boots are gonna walk all over you” came from a conversation he was eavesdropping on in a bar.  That proves 1) be careful what you say in a bar and 2) inspiration comes from all kinds of places like …

  1. Downtown

… the ginormous 1964 Petula Clark hit that came after songwriter Tony Hatch went to New York City to find new material for Clark. Before “Downtown,” Clark was unknown in the United States even though she was a huge British star. The single skyrocketed her to the top of the U.S. charts and “Downtown” was covered by Frank Sinatra, Patty Duke, and, most notably, by Dolly Parton on her The Great Pretender album. In a very 90s turn of events for the song, it featured prominently in “The Bottle Deposit” episode of Seinfeld, when George and Jerry decide to use the lyrics of the song to try to decipher a message from George’s boss because George, of course, is too anxious to ask his boss to clarify the message directly.  So, George and Jerry head, well, downtown—where all the lights are bright—and a bunch of hilarious nothingness follows.

  1. Shout!

Talk about your songs that have been covered and covered and covered. This Isley Brothers ditty barely had a chance to become one of their signature songs before everybody in the 60s … then 70s … then 80s … then 90s to now covered it for their own albums. Only one month after the Isley Brothers dropped the record, Johnny O’Keefe did the song in Australia and got it to #2 on the Aussie charts. After that, Chubby Checker recorded it, followed by Dion, Lulu, The Shangri-Las, The Beatles, The Kingsmen, The Shondells, Otis Day and The Knights, Joan Jett, Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers, Green Day, Panic! At the Disco, Garth Brooks, Bruce Springsteen, Alvin & the Chipmunks and the cast of Glee. And that’s not even a complete list. In an interesting side note, the Isley Brothers also wrote and recorded “Twist and Shout,” also recorded and made famous by The Beatles.

Arts Legacy REMIX

What started as a conversation about celebrating the Tampa area’s rich artistic heritage turned into a free concert series drawing unexpectedly large crowds. The Straz Center’s Arts Legacy REMIX was a long time in the making and looks like it’s here to stay.

After a brutal warrior’s stint in Vietnam that gave him an ultimatum to become brutal himself or take a higher calling, Fred Johnson chose love.

A longtime jazz musician who’d played with Aretha Franklin and Lionel Hampton and opened for Miles Davis, Fred immersed himself in studying Sufi wisdom and musical-spiritual cultures around the world. He wove this knowledge into his streetwise philosophy of caring for the neighborhood through the sharing of talents.

Fred Johnson

Fred eventually left The Straz to take this philosophy on the road, traveling around the world working with artists and community organizations to find paths of common ground and opportunities to teach. “I always kept in touch with The Straz and felt connected to the work here. I always felt, on some level, no matter where I was, I was an ambassador for Tampa. My journey out into the world was an extension of the work we did here, looking into how profoundly arts and artists can serve as catalysts for real transcendence and transformation,” he says.

Judy and Fred reconnected in 2016 at a Creative Forces forum, an organization dedicated to exploring ways the arts help veterans with PTSD and effects of traumatic brain injury.

“Our conversations were about the fact that society as a whole sees the therapeutic benefits of the arts from re-attaining wholeness with veterans to the growing need to find common ground among people,” Fred says. “We had started that notion with the Community Arts Ensemble, and we are living in times very receptive to this idea now.”

“We wanted to amplify that commitment and make real ways for the public to have greater access to The Straz. That’s what Arts Legacy was born from.”

Fred returned in 2017 to spearhead the Arts Legacy initiative which built on the philosophical foundations of art’s profoundly transformative role in the human experience.

FOTOSET BY JAMES LUEDDE

“Arts Legacy is about celebrating our community’s cultural impact,” says Straz Center President and CEO Judy Lisi. “Our community artists belong here, creating and having a place to be seen and appreciated. It’s very important that, as a community arts center, we represent the powerful sectors of culture right here. Fred took that notion and brought it to life; he’s always been great at working withdifferent members of the community to communicate and realize our commitment to all.”

Fred assembled a team of diverse community members to give input on what this Arts Legacy initiative would be. “The Straz has a responsibility to be an active community member, to have a voice at the table when decisions are being made that affect people.”

”Our legacy is redefining the role of art — that understanding art and creativity are the foundations to manifest change, to make the world a better place,” says Fred. Through a network of community members, the Arts Legacy team built a series of performances highlighting certain cultures that themselves are foundations to the Tampa Bay area.

FOTOSET BY JAMES LUEDDE

In essence, they got to the work of building bridges.

They got to the business of calling out to the heart and soul.

People answered.

The team took suggestions, made contacts, networked, organized and, in the end, produced six free concerts on the Riverwalk, drawing crowds of up to 500 people. They needed a name for the series and the Straz Center marketing team came up with Arts Legacy REMIX. “It’s hip, it’s inclusive,” says Fred, “and the success of Arts Legacy REMIX events was the outgrowth of reaching into the community and saying ‘hey, not only do we have one of the finest institutions in the world to present art, we also have this amazingly culturally and ethnically rich community that we can learn about from each other.’”

Last year, Arts Legacy REMIX hosted song, dance and drum performances around Hispanic heritage, Indian Diwali, Dr. King, Asian culture and global storytelling. Arts Legacy REMIX also hosted the Black Artists Film Series in the TECO Theater.

“It’s been really great just to see how excited people are about these performances and how much they look forward to it,” Fred says. “People are having an expanded relationship with The Straz and realizing how much we want to celebrate the arts and artistic traditions we have around us. It’s exciting to know we’re becoming more a part of people’s everyday lives by creating more opportunities for them to be on our grounds.”

FOTOSET BY JAMES LUEDDE

“We’re open to suggestions and ideas. We have the line-up for the 2019-2020 season and six more performances, but we are excited to engage as many members of the community as we possibly can,” Fred says. “Now more than ever, the artist is really important in putting a different kind of stamp on the human experience. We welcome community theater companies, community organizations — any folk out there who love what we’re doing and who want to support what we do; they can email communityprograms@strazcenter.org

The next Arts Legacy REMIX performance will be an MLK Commemoration: Power of Storytelling on Jan 17.  performances take place on the Riverwalk Stage, free of charge.

The Man Behind the Mission

Governor and former Tampa mayor Bob Martinez on growing up Tampanian, the creation of The Straz and what it meant for the growth of Tampa.

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Construction of Festival Hall, now Carol Morsani Hall.

With Caribbean blue eyes, an easy smile and a rambling drawl that flows through stories of Tampa history like the Hillsborough River ambles through this vast county, Robert “Bob” Martinez makes for an enchanting conversationalist on the subject of The Straz and what Tampa was like all those many years before it housed a world-class performing arts center.

This season, we celebrate 30 years of The Straz. As part of this celebration, we are gathering stories, “the million little stories that make up who we are,” and we decided that we might as well start at the beginning – with Bob Martinez.

Martinez’s grandparents came to Tampa from Spain, mingling with the other immigrant cultures of Ybor City and West Tampa – Italians, Cubans and Germans – and, like those new Americans, Martinez’s grandparents joined the mutual aid societies of the area.

“I grew up here, and we belonged to Centro Español. For twenty-five cents or fifty cents a week for your whole family, you had hospital care, a clubhouse, doctors, a cemetery. It really was care from birth to death,” Martinez recounts from the penthouse conference room in the Regions Bank building where, though in his 80s, he works as a senior policy advisor for Holland & Knight, LLP. From this bird’s-eye view, the swooping lines of the deep blue Hillsborough Bay hug the sprawling cluster of white and terra cotta rooftops. Like exotic hot air balloons, railroad tycoon Henry B. Plant’s Moorish minarets spring skyward, an opulent reminder of Tampa’s first renaissance, now on the campus of University of Tampa, home to the Bob Martinez Athletic Center. This view looks like it does now mostly because of Martinez’s mayoral agenda in the early ’80s, the second renaissance for Tampa.

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Robert “Bob” Martinez.

As worker-centered social clubs, the mutual aid societies came to represent the hard-working and community-centered ethos that would dominate Tampa until the abrupt socio-economic changes of the mid-20th century. Part of the vital fabric of the mutual aid societies was culture. “I went to live productions all the time,” Martinez says. “We had live talent [at the mutual aid societies], and I was taken to all the shows at five and six years old even though I probably fidgeted through most of them.”

In school, Martinez worked on the grade plays – 6th, 9th and senior year – as crew. “I wasn’t a participant. They were mostly musicals.” (He confided later to a singing ability so bad he won’t even attempt to exercise it in the shower or car. However, he’s a crackerjack dancer.)

Dirt roads led in and out of his neighborhood, near where Raymond James Stadium sits today. To get to any excitement, you had to board a streetcar that would click and clack to the action: downtown. “In the ’40s and ’50s, the entertainment center was Downtown Tampa,” he recalls. “Movie houses, hotels. All the hotels had restaurants and live entertainment. I dated my future wife, Mary Jane Marino, at every movie house in Downtown Tampa. Downtown was the core, and that probably stuck in my mind. All the streetcars led to downtown – that’s impressionable to someone young, as I was then. I probably got it in my mind that anything that would happen for Tampa would happen downtown.”

By the 1970s, Martinez, who had been a much-loved high school teacher, bought Café Sevilla, a Spanish restaurant with a reputation for attracting a who’s-who from business, politics and entertainment. “If any famous actors were in town filming a movie, somebody would bring them by Café Sevilla,” Martinez says. “We had Ricardo Montalban, Vikki Carr, Fernando Lamas.” People knew Bob Martinez, and a month after he took over the restaurant, then-Governor Reubin Askew called Martinez to serve on the board of the Southwest Florida Water Management District.

The call jump-started Martinez’s political life, and, in 1979, he announced his mayoral bid. The major focus of his platform?

“I announced I wanted to build a performing arts center. Downtown.”

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Photo of downtown Tampa before the Straz Center was built.

Martinez, who would later advance to Governor of Florida and eventually serve as Drug Czar under President George H. W. Bush, saw that the Downtown Tampa of his youth had stagnated, mired in random industrialization and unable to revitalize after the cigar industry collapsed. “In July of ’79, I released three white papers, the first one explaining how job creation and economic development were tied to the performing arts center. You see, in order to attract new businesses, the CEOs and their spouses would need something to do, a reason to want to be here. They wouldn’t want to come to a place with limited culture. That’s how I sold it. I tied it to economic development. Nobody was going to come here without some kind of culture.”

At a candidate forum on Davis Islands, Martinez openly spoke about his vision for Tampa and how that vision depended on 1) a performing arts center and 2) everybody’s buy-in. “I explained that bringing a performing arts center to Tampa allowed middle-class people and others to enjoy Broadway and other shows. For a lot of people, it would be the first time in their lives. But it was more than that. A performing arts center would give children who were arts-oriented a chance to develop their strengths and talents. Children who were arts-oriented ought to have the same opportunities to develop those talents as children who have athletic talent, and we had Little League fields all over the county.”

The idea took. The daily papers supported the platform, and Martinez received almost zero push-back on the proposal – impressive, considering it carried a multi-million-dollar price tag that taxpayers, would, in part, cover. He won the 1979 election.

“As soon as I was elected, I gathered a task force to figure out how to build one [a performing arts center]. I called H.L. Culbreath, who was a good friend and customer at the restaurant, and I wanted him to chair the task force. We compiled a list of names, H.L. made the calls, and we had it.”

Groundbreaking

The groundbreaking for the Tampa Bay Performing Arts Center, now the Straz Center.

Martinez and the performing arts center task force faced a formidable challenge: how to raise the funds. “This had never been done in Tampa before, raising that much money,” Martinez says. The $15 million he thought would cover the one-hall center was a far cry from the 25-cents-a-week price tag of the mutual aid societies. But, the community spirit was still there, carried on the wind from the remaining shells of cigar factories lining West Tampa and Ybor City. “We realized, though, that if people were going to have to give, it should be to a non-profit organization, not the local government,” Martinez remembers, “so the city doesn’t run it, but the non-profit does.”

The design phases of the Tampa Bay Performing Arts Center (renamed the David A. Straz, Jr. Center for the Performing Arts in 2009) proved challenging, with a few hiccups along the way but no major bumps in the road. The biggest problem – if you could call it that – was that everyone involved with the concept and construction wanted the best of the best. “The biggest surprise in the whole project was how big it ended up being,” he laughs. “I thought it would be one hall – not two or three or four! But, H.L. kept saying ‘I think we need to add this … ’ and it just sort of grew. The people on the committee were all local business and community leaders, we were doing this for our community, for the growth of Tampa, and a lot of the people involved in the construction were local. We wanted to do it right.” The total costs far exceeded Martinez’s initial thoughts, but the community commitment and business leadership followed through to the end, when the Tampa Bay Performing Arts Center opened for business in 1987.

The success of The Straz’s public-private partnerships set the standard of business for what Martinez calls “a community ticket facility.” “It’s the best model,” he says. “We used the same non-profit concept we established for the performing arts center for the zoo and all the museums with ticket sales.”

Many people don’t know that, before the plans for The Straz began in earnest, a group of “baseball enthusiasts” courted Martinez over lunch to build a pro baseball stadium instead of the performing arts center. Martinez enjoyed his meal, thanked the enthusiasts and said no. “I ran on building a performing arts center, not a baseball stadium. I had to keep my promise.” Martinez, himself a baseball talent who passed on a contract with the Brooklyn Dodgers to get married and attend college, saw that the zeitgeist for Tampa’s second renaissance would be in the arts.

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Grand opening celebration of the Tampa Bay Performing Arts Center in 1987. (Photo: Cliff McBride)

“If, for some reason the performing arts center hadn’t materialized, it would have been first a denial to the young people who needed arts education. Second, it would have been a denial to people who can’t afford to go to Broadway. It would have had an adverse impact on recruiting business. A performing arts center showed that we were a growing, sophisticated community,” Martinez says. “If we hadn’t built the Straz Center, Tampa wouldn’t have seen growth of the same magnitude.”

An unintended outcome of building a performing arts center as a juggernaut of metropolitan growth was the effect The Straz’s success had on subsequent projects. “Building a performing arts center opened the citizens of Tampa Bay’s pocketbooks for other organizations. The zoo, the history center … once you invest, you’re an advocate. You have skin in the game,” he says. “As you can see, I’m real proud of our community.”

Martinez left Tampa for several years to follow his political trajectory – which, incidentally, led to a parallel side-job related to the performing arts. He landed a walk-on role as a customs officer in the James Bond film License to Kill after meeting with producer Albert “Cubby” Broccoli, who invited him to the set in Key West. Broccoli later allowed Martinez to use pre-release screenings of the film to raise funds for a children’s organ transplant foundation. Martinez then got a speaking part on a “drugs and go-fast boats” pilot for a television movie called Thunder Boat Row but it didn’t get picked up.

Despite the fact that he has both an IMDb (Internet Movie Database) listing and a former place in the Presidential Cabinet, Martinez returned home, to the place of his cherished memories, his grandkids and to the bustling city poised on the next renaissance. In his spare time, he works towards efforts to restore and renovate Centro Español, the mutual aid society building of his youth. But, he is not riding on nostalgia.

View from river

“The future looks wonderful. For a city our size to have two sports teams, arena football and all of our cultural institutions with hardly any corporate headquarters … that’s one great story to tell about the Tampa people. That they wanted these things for themselves. To me, it’s an incredible story,” he says. “And what we have at the Straz Center is second to none.”

Bob Martinez gambled on the economic savvy of relying on the performing arts to drive growth – and won. This incredible story started simply enough, with a teacher-turned-restaurateur who knew that the power of culture could transform a town into an international destination.

Ten Million Five Hundred Twelve Thousand Minutes

The original cast of RENT twenty years later … where are they now?

original cast

The original Broadway cast of RENT. (Photo: Joan Marcus)

The raw yet elegantly composed story of young people scrabbling to make their dreams come true in an AIDS-rattled New York City shadowed by a growing moral hypocrisy from the political establishment, RENT resonated with Generation X. A young composer, a young cast, a new style of musical designed to capture a new disillusionment about the American Dream re-energized the Broadway musical scene.

The Hamilton of its time, RENT spurred an obsessed fandom of “RENTers” or “RENT-heads” to camp overnight for a shot at $20 tickets to the original Broadway show. The original cast, then comprised of young, unknown talents who toiled in rehearsals uncertain of whether the show was any good, became overnight sensations once RENT became the toast of the town in 1996.

Original cast members included Idina Menzel, Taye Diggs, Anthony Rapp and Jesse L. Martin at the start of their careers. Now that RENT enters its 20th anniversary tour and stops by The Straz Sept. 19-24, we thought we’d look at where the original cast is now.

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Adam Pascal as Shakespeare in Something Rotten! (Photo: Joan Marcus)

Adam Pascal (Roger)
Life after RENT: starred in Cabaret, Chicago, Memphis, Aida, Disaster! and more.
Now: Cast as William Shakespeare in 2016’s Something Rotten!, Pascal teamed up with RENT co-star Anthony Rapp in 2017 for a series of concerts about the musical.

 

If/Then

Anthony Rapp & Jackie Burns in IF/THEN. (Photo: Joan Marcus)

Anthony Rapp (Mark)
Life after RENT: starred in the musical You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown and several films including A Beautiful Mind.
Now: Rapp appeared at the Straz Center last year in If/Then, a musical he also starred in on Broadway with his RENT co-star Idina Menzel.

 

Idina Menzel (Maureen)
Life after RENT: Well, Elphaba in Wicked and belter of “Let It Go” as Elsa in Frozen.
Now: Menzel just wrapped up a world tour and continues to work with A Broader Way, an organization to support arts education for girl in urban communities, which she founded with her RENT co-star Taye Diggs.

 

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Taye Diggs on Empire. (Photo: Instagram @tayediggsinsta)

Taye Diggs (Benny)
Life after RENT: became a household name after starring in How Stella Got Her Groove Back, appearing frequently on television shows (Will & Grace, Grey’s Anatomy, Rosewood, Murder in the First).
Now: Diggs just wrapped three films in 2017 and is most recognized for his role as Angelo Dubois on Empire.

 

Jesse L Martin

Jesse L. Martin is known for playing detectives on TV. (Photo: Diyah Pera/The CW)

Jesse L. Martin (Tom)
Life after RENT: maintained a very successful career in television, most notably for his role as Ed Green on Law & Order.
Now: Martin portrays Detective Joe West on the television series The Flash. He has been cast as Marvin Gaye in the film Sexual Healing though the film is currently stalled.

 

Portrait of a mature african woman

Fredi Walker (Joanne)
Life after RENT: appeared in musicals including The Lion King (Rafiki) and The Buddy Holly Story.
Now: Walker teaches voice at Long Island University and New York University.

 

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Wilson Jermaine Heredia performing at the 23rd Annual ROCKERS ON BROADWAY concert in 2016. (Photo: BroadwayWorld.com)

Wilson Jermaine Heredia (Angel)
Life after RENT: took a short hiatus from the limelight before staying under the radar in a series of titillating B movies.
Now: Heredia just wrapped the comedy feature film The Rainbow Bridge Motel.

 

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Daphne Rubin-Vega (Mimi)
Life after RENT: continued a Broadway and music career, appearing in Les Miserables, The Rocky Horror Picture Show, and the Tampa-based drama Anna in the Tropics while writing and recording albums.
Now: Rubin-Vega lives in Panama with her husband and child and occasionally performs in public art shows.

Virtual Sensations

How social media and television talent shows changed performing arts programming

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iLuminate placed third on the sixth season of America’s Got Talent.

Some baby-faced tween covers a Chris Brown tune on YouTube. It goes viral. R&B superstar Usher sees the video. Signs the kid to his label.

The kid’s name? Justin Bieber.

Beliebe it: so much of our culture rapidly evolved and adapted once folks figured out the marketing and promotional power of the internet, a virtual worldwide “people’s media.” Suddenly, everyone with access to a recording device, an internet connection and a computer could launch their own free channel on YouTube and be connected to billions of other people. There was absolutely no quality control, but the YouTube market and social community could, would, did and does—make people famous.

YouTube and other social media like Facebook, Instagram, Buzzfeed and Twitter remade pop culture into its current, over-saturated, digital shape, creating a parallel virtual world to real life, with many of us living in both—and almost everyone capitalizing on “see-me” wonderworld of the internet’s mass media platforms. On social media, it’s obvious what people like because videos go viral, shared repeatedly on Facebook or re-Tweeted, until hundreds of thousands or millions of people have viewed someone’s song, rant, dance performance, comedy routine—you name it. Then, sometimes, if you’re a Justin Bieber, you land on Usher’s iPhone and become a megastar.

The show business part of performing arts programming overlaps with pop culture because tickets must be sold, and there must be an audience who wants to pay money for the tickets. This fundamental formula of supply and demand eventually pushed performing arts centers to mine the talent fields at play on social media, following audience trends and taking social media seriously as a legit launch pad for performing artists with popular appeal.

Perhaps one of the biggest acts to launch itself onto the real-life stages of great performing arts centers is Postmodern Jukebox, a YouTube sensation of talented musicians and vocalists who make retro adaptations of popular songs. We had them here at The Straz last season, and the tickets went like hot cakes. YouTube also brought attention to musician Bo Burnham, who also performed here last season, and many of our Club Jaeb artists rely on YouTube and their self-promotion platform online to demonstrate their selling power when programmers, like our director of programming Chrissy Hall scouts talent.

“Well, the influx and prominence of YouTube has greatly increased the number of stars, but it tends to create a 15-minutes-of-fame-scenario,” she says. “So, the trick is finding a measure for whether the success will be more than a flash in the pan. A lot of it comes down to their prominence on social media—if they have a strong number of followers. Those numbers could indicate success in a live performance experience.  I watch the views their videos have on YouTube and the likes they get on social media, which informs the decision to book them or not. This process for fame is still relatively new, so a lot of it comes down to instinct, but, as analytics become more reliable, they help.”

The forerunner to social media, of course, was the TV talent show, an old-time game show template resurrected by Star Search, American Idol and Dancing with the Stars. The same populace-meritocracy thread—that average people’s votes determine the winner—laid the foundation for the success with social media since winning-the-Internet depends on mass popularity.

A very interesting connection between these types of TV shows and live performing arts exists between American Idol and Broadway. Several contestants on the show later found a place for themselves on the Great White Way thanks to their ride on Simon Cowell’s gravy train. Constantine Maroulis, who ended up in sixth place in season four, pulled a Tony® nomination in 2009 for Rock of Ages. Jennifer Hudson made her Broadway debut in The Color Purple this year, and other notables include Clay Aiken in Spamalot, Jordin Sparks in Lin-Manuel Miranda’s pre-Hamilton hit In the Heights and Todrick Hall, who took over the lead role as Lola in Kinky Boots on November 1.

In our season and in the seasons of other prominent performing arts centers, you’ll find artists and acts from America’s Got Talent, The Voice and other road-to-stardom television talent shows. iLuminate, a dance performance company performing here November 20, stunned studio audiences with their high-tech, minimalist lighted costumes and hip-hop dance. Their talent and popularity was the right balance to propel them to a national tour. “We try to see if these groups from TV shows have the ability to convert their popularity to a following of ticket buyers. I monitor them on social media as well, but the sure bet is always peers in the industry. They’re the best resource for knowing who of this type of artist is best to book until our analytics processes get more developed,” Hall says.

With the cancellation of American Idol this year, it’ll be interesting to see what next-big-thing emerges from the screen-based entertainment industry and how that may affect what we see on performing arts stages around the nation. While we wait, we’ll just mind the gap with YouTube dance videos.

NOTE: Remember, fans, take a few minutes to learn about what is fair use and what is copyright infringement before you become famous on YouTube. Wired breaks it down in this article or you can just read over YouTube’s explanation.

Scholarship Story: Abigale Pfingsten, from Grade School to Graduate

You don’t have to have a lot of money to study the performing arts. If you have a child or child in your life who has dreams, talent or just plain curiosity, we have scholarship opportunities to help them get the classes they need. The next Patel Conservatory scholarship deadline is Dec. 3, 2016.

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Abigale performing in concert with the Patel Conservatory Vocal Arts program.

This year, one of our Patel Conservatory scholarship students headed to Carnegie-Mellon University on a tuition scholarship to study international politics—and the performing arts, thanks to her years of growing up with support and training from The Straz.

At nine years old, Abigale Pfingsten won a scholarship to study piano with John Hernandez at the Patel Conservatory. Little did she know that initial taste of her own innate talent would lead to almost a decade of immersion in all aspects of the performing arts, developing a passion that would set the course of her life. “John Hernandez is an amazing, fantastic teacher who took me to new levels of what I can do with piano. I loved learning from him so much,” she says. “Then, that first summer I tried out for Seussical, got a part, and loved it, too. From that point forward, I expanded my horizons, studying ballet, musical theater, continuing my piano training. I found my passion in the performing arts, and I never would have been able to make these discoveries without the scholarships graciously provided by people who are lovers of the arts.”

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Abigale performing in the Patel Conservatory production of Seussical the Musical, 2011.

In her college essay, Abigale stated:

… Sooner or later in my artistic career, I am going to establish a non-profit conservatory for the performing arts. I would like it to be a place where people with the eagerness to experience the arts can go to regardless of their financial situation. I want my conservatory to be a home for children and adults just as the Patel Conservatory/Straz Center has been for me all these years.

So, the cycle of giving and learning pays it forward in tangible ways for uncountable lives. “My life would have turned out very differently without performing arts classes,” Abigale says. “Without the generosity of donors to provide scholarships, I wouldn’t know my passion.”

 

 

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Abigale (in blue) performing in the Patel Conservatory production of The Little Shop of Horrors, 2013.

We want to make sure that all young people in the Tampa Bay area have the opportunity to study and grow in Patel Conservatory classes, just like Abigale. You never know how an experience in the arts may affect your life. If you want to take performing arts classes, we have scholarship opportunities available.

The next scholarship deadline is December 3, 2016. Details and applications are available on our website. We recommend that everyone submit the need-based application so we know there is a need; from there, the scholarship committee reviews applications and offers awards. If you have questions or would like more information, please contact patelconservatory@strazcenter.org.

Open To Interpretation

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Interpreters Anthony Verdeja and Carrie Moore welcome deaf and hard-of-hearing guests to the Straz Center. (Photo: Rob/Harris Productions Inc)

The Thursday night show during each Broadway run has a special performer, one whose acting and choreography chops never make a sound. As part of its Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) initiative, the Straz Center secures a sign language interpreter for the Thursday night show in the Broadway series, with The Illusionists being the first of this season.

While any Straz Center performance falls under the ADA guidelines and can have sign-language interpretation on an as-needed basis, this initiative guarantees a regularly scheduled interpreted performance that guests can expect.

Far from being a literal English translation of the script, a signed performance requires that the interpreter don all artistic hats at once: the interpreter must emote, understand motivation in gestures and artistically translate a musical script from English into a visual language unto itself. The common misconception that American Sign Language (ASL) merely invented gestures that correspond to English words greatly underestimates the complexity of ASL as its own novel language, complete with its own grammar, nuance and expressive capability. In other words, an interpreter creates an adaptation to visual language in real time, giving deaf or hard-of-hearing patrons the thrilling emotional experience shared by patrons who can hear the performance.

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An interpreter becomes a one-person show, transforming a musical into ASL with the same need for fluency that someone would need to translate Chinese poetry into English verse. There is an ‘essence’ that must be captured in the language, and apprehending this elusive quality requires a strong set of skills and no amount of stage fright.

This tall order cannot be filled by just anyone who happens to know ASL. “We’ve engaged an exceptional company to provide sign language services,” says Straz Center director of production services Mike Chamoun. “This group is just tremendous. They add the emotional interpretation like actors, conveying that much more. Most interpreters like to locate the deaf and hard-of-hearing patrons before the show, meeting them and asking about what they want from the performance and having that dialogue inform their interpretation. It’s quite something. They are excellent at serving the patron.”

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The minority-woman owned company, Absolute Quality Interpreting (AQI), hires only nationally-certified sign language interpreters. Lisa Schaefermeyer, AQI’s founder and CEO, ensures that her interpreters deliver a great performance of the show. “There’s a difference,” she says, “between someone who knows sign language and someone who can perform. There’s a skill level needed to stand on the platform and do what they do. We are fortunate to have interpreters who specialize in the performing arts.”

Chamoun requests a copy of the script from the show, then forwards the script to AQI so the interpreters have time to prepare their own performance. “But they don’t get months of rehearsal,” Chamoun says. “They’re lucky if they get two weeks.”

“The additional prep time allows the interpreter to give a better performance for the audience. She or he has time to think about the right sign to reflect what is happening on stage. Imagine a monotone reading of an audio book, read by someone with no training,” says Schaefermeyer. “Then imagine a great actor performing the text of the same book, and you’ll get an idea of what is possible with great sign language interpretation.”

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Typically, a Broadway show requires two interpreters to cover the many parts. In Morsani Hall, they stand in a small, specifically-designed alcove complete with its own lighting so that the interpreters fade out or blackout in sync with the main show. “It’s under the house right mezzanine,” says Chamoun. “So, it’s not on stage but on the orchestra level so patrons have a good view. We encourage our deaf and hard-of-hearing patrons to call the Ticket Sales Office and have a representative make sure they get seats with a good view of the interpreter. We want to make sure they get the same Straz experience, and we are happy to do what we can.”

“We are so excited to be able to do this,” says Schaefermeyer, who has a few decades of experience in the field. “Our interpreters love their jobs, love to spend time with patrons and getting to know cast members. And that comes through in the interpretation.”