Students get hands-on theater experience at Straz Center

Behind the scenes at a production at the Straz Center for the Performing Arts, there’s lot of minds and bodies working together to bring a musical to life. This summer, for the first time ever, high school and college students were given the chance work side-by-side with union professionals.

"A lot of it is trying to understand the whole schedule process and how tight and compact things are," Patel Conservatory Theater Department Manager Ryan Began said. "In a professional world, we don’t have that much time, so this is a great experience for them to see how a big show can come together very quickly."

The new summer intensive is a three-week program, featuring more than 30 students. Around ten of those students are participating in a week-long Pro Technical Theater Track, where they learn directly from the Straz production staff as they put on SpongeBob The Musical.

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"Just for me personally, there's like a thrill of getting to prepare for it, and then just also night of show, getting to do so many different things," Grace Christian School incoming senior Vivian Riffe said. "Like how like an actor might feel like, 'oh, it's your show day,' like you get to perform in front of everybody. It's like that, but for more technical reasons."

Riffe has built props and helped the actors with quick changes. Many of the performers play multiple characters, which means a lot of different outfits. To help control the chaos, Riffe created guide sheets to help with the transitions.

"The show is huge. It is a big old musical. The show is rapid fire, and there are a lot of locations, a lot of costumes, a lot of costume changes," Regan explained. "We have actors playing seven, eight, nine, ten roles, and they have to be, in 15 seconds, a completely different character."

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Gibbs High School incoming junior Sophia Conley has spent most of her time with the costume department. She helped design sea-star dresses made of recycled materials.

"There's so much, so many different types of costumes. There's no really right or wrong way to do SpongeBob or a show like this, and everything's for fun and colorful and big and loud," Conley said. "So, I definitely say it's the perfect show to learn little things on."

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Both Riffe and Conley have spent a large chunk of their lives involved in theater production, and it’s that passion that inspires the long-time staff like Began.

"To see the kids and how excited they are and how supportive they are of each other, and to see that twinkle in their eye when they sort of discover the magic of the theater is really special, and it's a reminder of why we do what we do," he said.

For more information on the summer program, click here. (Link opens a PDF.)

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