Monday, October 31, 2011

Theater guest blog: Our Town cast spends time with Addams Family cast and crew

Guest blog by Braxton Perry, cast member for PCYT's production of Our Town 
Wednesday, Oct. 26, 2011
Ah, that’s better. I’m finally getting back to a schedule. Hmm… this past week… It’s been “right nice”, to quote Simon Stimson from Our Town. Starting last week, we’re now off book for both Acts 1 and 2.
We’ve been breaking down the different scenes in detail and changing bits and pieces. I would say at this point almost every character in Our Town is built in full. The characters may still change a little, but they have a base now. 
One of the super cool things we got to do last week was a Q&A with some of the cast and crew of the Addams Family.
Cast of Our Town with the Addams Family's Douglas
Sills, who plays Gomez
The Theater Apprentices had a chance to talk to the company manager and the makeup and wig supervisor. They were both a great resource of knowledge on some of the “behind the scenes” bits of a Broadway show. Afterwards, the cast of Our Town got a chance to talk to Douglas Sills, who plays Gomez. It was really amazing talking to him, since he has a lot of acting experience. With all that, this week has been a great one for acting.
On another other side of me, I also have another arm… wait… no… I mean metaphorically. The other part… the dance… THE DANCE SIDE, ALRIGHT!?! Whew. I’m glad I got that off my… metaphorical chest. Right
So, I’m not sure if I mentioned it before, but I’m going to have a few roles in the upcoming production of Next Generation Ballet's The Nutcracker. I’m not going to be doing any serious dancing, because I’m not that good of a dancer… yet. The roles I play have some dancing, but are mainly acting. I had my first rehearsal last week and it went great! Some of my friends from tap class are in the rehearsals as well.
So, things are starting to warm up on all fronts (unless you’re talking about the steady decline in the temperature… brrrr – yeah all 60° of it), and I’m having a wonderful time.
[My] Teachers of the Week:
Ami Sallee, Matthew Belopavlovich, Audrey Siegler and Allison Novak: It really doesn’t do them justice putting them altogether, but Our Town has less than a month left until the show (right now would be a great time to buy tickets), so I have to mention my teachers in the theater and music departments. I feel bad for them because they often have to deal with my really quirky personality, but to me, they’ve all been really inspirational and great teachers. You guys have changed me forever.
Things I like:
The truth
Hot chocolate
Balancing chemical equations

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Spotlight on Kamron Vaziri

From thespian to pre-professional ballet dancer, Kamron Vaziri has made the leap in a relatively short amount of time.
At 18 years old, Vaziri has only been dancing for three years, and began concentrating on ballet two years ago. Yet, he was chosen as one of only six New Artists of Next Generation Ballet, the pre-professional ballet company at the Straz Center.
In a world where many kids start when they can barely put on their own dance shoes, Vaziri has distinguished himself as one of the few exceptions to the rule.
As a thespian in high school in Binghamton, New York, Vaziri auditioned for Carousel in the 10th grade. “I got the lead dance part because I was the only boy that could move,” he laughed.
With that role came a love for dance. Vaziri enrolled in modern and jazz classes. Shortly after, he moved with his family to the Atlanta area where he took classes at a local studio. Deciding he wanted more serious training, he began commuting an hour a day to train with the Atlanta Ballet.
“Because I started late, I never got basic technique training,” said Vaziri. He also added private lessons to catch up to his peers. “For how long I’d been dancing, I was good, but for my age, I was a little behind.”
This past summer, Vaziri was offered full scholarships to both the Milwaukee Ballet’s and the NGB’s summer intensives. He chose to come here.
In addition to his full-time dance training, Vaziri also takes classes at HCC. He enjoys drawing and interior design. He’s looking forward to performing in The Nutcracker in December and Swan Lake in the spring. “I love the music to Swan Lake.”
Training with NGB “Is the hardest I’ve worked for anything in my life,” he said. “But I love what I do.”

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Theater guest blog: Flash mob at Broadway Ball!

Guest blog by Braxton Perry, cast member for PCYT's production of Our Town 

Thursday, Oct. 20, 2011
Woah! It's almost been a month since my last blog! Things have been super busy for me. I'm not only doing this blog, I'm also doing a vlog (a video blog) which gets posted on the Patel Conservatory Facebook page (hopefully the next one will be out this week).
One cool thing I had the chance to do this past weekend was to be at the Broadway Ball and play Lurch in the Addams Family flash mob. (A flash mob is a surprise dance breakout.) The Broadway Ball was really nice (I think you can see some pictures online), and from everything I saw, it looked like it was worth the price of the evening (seriously, I would go if I could next year).
I got to Morsani Hall early, and we went and checked out the dressing rooms. I then went to the lobby (which is where we would be interacting with the guests and doing the flash mob). We ran the dance a few times, which started with a piece from the great Next Generation Ballet dancers.
After that I had some makeup put on and ate dinner. As the guests arrived, we went around and took pictures with them for a few hours. Finally, we did the flash mob. Everyone did a great job dancing (Tall Paul - you did great with the arrow!) and everyone loved it. It was a great experience.
Broadway Ball flash mob in Morsani lobby. Photo by Rob Harris

Of course, you may also be wondering how Our Town is going... It's going great!
We're doing a lot of run-throughs of the different acts (tonight is off-book for Act 2; yikes!), and it's going really smoothly. Something funny for you: yesterday, for a focus exercise, we did some yoga poses. I'm not sure if we got the focus bit... Everybody was cracking up. It's hard to keep a straight face when all your friends are looking like trees.
As always, I could write so much more (like a minute by minute of my entire life), but I think that's a good very basic brief on what I've been doing.
Chase your dreams...and hopefully catch them!
[My] Teacher of the Week:
Catherine Michelsen. She’s my violin teacher at the Patel Conservatory. I really appreciate her dealing with my sometimes ridiculous over-logical questions. You're awesome!
Things I like:
Light bulbs, rubber bands, hand sanitizer and paper clips (all related somehow... I think)
Cameras and green cloths

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Conservatory student wins thespian award

Congratulations to Patel Conservatory student Corey Farrell on winning the Critic’s Choice Award at the recent Florida Thespians Competition of Hillsborough County Public Schools District 9.
“I was surprised, especially since this was my first year. I was freaking out,” said Farrell, 15, of Riverview High School.
Farrell has enjoyed performing in musical theater since he was ten and this past summer, he participated in the Conservatory’s summer musical theater camp. 
For the competition, he performed the solo “Be Like the Bluebird” from Anything Goes, and, along with a group, “Two Ladies” from Cabaret, for which he received straight Superior ratings.
“I’m a comedic character actor, so [my solo] helped showcase my abilities,” said Farrell.
In preparation for the performance, he began working with vocal coach Dee Lynch, staff accompanist and musical theater specialist.
“I want to get better at singing, and learn how to properly train my voice,” he said. “She taught me different techniques that...definitely helped my overall performance.”
“Corey is a bright, dedicated young man who gives 100% in his vocal coaching sessions,” said Lynch. “He enjoys learning new skills and is quick to apply them to the material. I’m thrilled to hear of his success!”
Farrell will compete in the state competition in the spring.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Costume moms gear up for Nutcracker

The costume shop is busy at work getting ready for The Nutcracker.
With more than 150 dancers in three casts of three shows, wardrobe manager Suzanne Nelson has her job cut out for her. Some roles are triple cast to include our growing number of PCYB dancers.
While the Next Generation Ballet production will utilize the beautiful costumes from last year, many of them have to be altered to fit this year’s cast.
“It’s a lot, it’s crazy,” said Nelson, busy at the sewing machine. “This year, we have to create a new costume for the Nutcracker prince, he’s a completely different size.”
Helping out recently were volunteers, Linda Holt, mom of NGB trainee Emily, and Kymberly Cassada, mom of NGB trainee Kemper.
So here’s a shout out to Nelson and all her volunteer sewing moms behind the scenes who help bring this winter tradition to the stage!

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Broadway Ball Late Night supports education programs at the Conservatory

Looking for something different to do this weekend? Here’s a fun and easy way to support our programs here at the Patel Conservatory...
Come join us this Saturday at the Broadway Ball Late Night event. It’s a new element to the Straz Center’s annual fundraiser.
For only $55 per person (or $100 per couple), you’ll enjoy live music, dancing, hor d’oeuvres, dessert and an open bar! It’s an affordable way to be a part of the exciting Broadway Ball which ushers in the upcoming Broadway season and raises funds for the programs of the Patel Conservatory.
The funds raised from the Broadway Ball and its Late Night event will help the Straz Center support our Outreach and Access Arts scholarship programs at the Conservatory. As the largest cultural institution in Florida, we are mission-driven to provide the broadest possible access to arts education experiences for our community.
So get out of the house Saturday night for a date night or girls’ night out! Have a great time dining and dancing while supporting arts education at your Conservatory!
When: Sat., Oct. 15, 2011
Cost: $55 per person/$100 per couple
Includes live music, dancing, open bar, hor d’oeuvres, dessert and silent auction.

Patel Conservatory makes national news

By Leslie Farrell, Publicist for the Patel Conservatory
Both the dance chair at the Patel Conservatory and a Patel Conservatory dance student are in the national news this month!

Thalia, on left, performs in a holiday show
with tappers from the Patel Conservatory.
Thalia Arbelaez, Patel Conservatory dance student, is in the Oct. 17, 2011 issue of Woman’s World, available on newsstands at grocery stores and pharmacies nationwide. The 18-year-old dancer is called "an inspiration" in the publication, as it describes how – with help from her supportive parents - this remarkable young lady with Downs Syndrome dances at fundraisers for the Down Syndrome Association and motivates others.
Thalia recently returned from Colombia, the country of her parents’ birth, where she danced in fundraisers from the Colombian association for people with Downs Syndrome. Last year, she was invited to dance in Argentina with the same aim and she also participated in a fashion show in Denver.
All this is quite a feat, especially for a girl whose doctor said would never walk! Check out Thalia’s story on page 54 of Woman’s World.
Chair of the Patel Conservatory’s dance department and Artistic Director of Next Generation Ballet, Peter Stark, is also in the national news this month! Peter was interviewed for the magazine Dance Teacher about his views on competitions in the world of ballet. Check out

Peter has had several students win national and international dance competitions, so he is an expert on this field. Fortunately for Tampa, he’s also enticed the Youth America Grand Prix (YAGP) to hold a gala here in January, which will feature professional ballet dancers performing alongside soon-to-be ballet stars.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Spotlight on William Dugan

One of the hardest parts of growing up is finding your niche. Sometimes it’s a tough road, but when you find that special something, the road opens up to unimagined possibilities.
Next Generation Ballet’s new artist William Dugan knows that road well.
“He had a horrific public school experience,” explained Lori Dugan, William's mother. Bullied at public school when he was younger, Dugan tried a private school that specialized in the performing arts.
That’s where William found dance, and the seed was planted.
At age 10, William took ballet as part of his curriculum.
“As soon as I started, I really liked it,” said William. His talent and self-esteem began to flourish. 
“They started teaching him things that they usually don’t teach students until they’ve taken technique classes,” said Dugan.
His teacher encouraged him to try a master class at the Patel Conservatory. Here, he met instructor Melissa Stafford, who saw his potential and encouraged him to join PCYB.
Lori was reluctant to commute from New Port Richey, but with William now homeschooling, she finally decided to sign him up for ballet classes. At that time, William was one of the only boys. There was no ballet company yet and no full-time apprentice program.
“[William] worked hard with Melissa,” said Lori, “Any class he could take, he took.” He came to the Conservatory every day, putting in extra time wherever he could to catch up with the more experienced dancers.

“I’ve been in Peter’s [Stark] men’s class since I was 11,” said William. “Now, instead of taking his class every Thursday, I get to train with him every day.”

As one our New Artists, William takes up to three classes a day geared specifically towards males. Although ballerinas make their graceful leaps look so easy, it takes a lot of strength on the part of the male partners, and Stark challenges them to achieve that.
“We do a lot of push-ups and working out to build up our strength,” said William.

“William's success and progress mirrors the development of the dance program at the Patel Conservatory. His progress has been stellar,” said Peter Stark, chair of the Patel Conservatory Dance Department.
Last year, William placed third in the Jr. Boys’ Division at the Youth America Grand Prix regional competition. This year, he won a scholarship for the summer intensive at the School of American Ballet (SAB), and was subsequently offered a scholarship to return there this fall. But at only 14, New York was too far from home.
"From a true beginner to winning medals at Youth America Grand Prix, William exemplifies that hard work pays off. His commitment and focus are unparalleled,” said Stark.
Once one of the only boys in a budding ballet program, now he’s got coveted roles in Next Generation Ballet’s The Nutcracker. He’ll play the role of the Nutcracker, as well as the lead Russian dancer and a mouse.
“l’m excited about being the lead Russian dancer because it’s a lot of big jumps, so it’s high energy and fun,” he said.
“I just love the Patel Conservatory,” said William, who seems to have found his niche. His goal is to join a professional company in a couple of years.
“William’s self-esteem and confidence is beyond anything you could ever imagine,” said Lori. “As a mom, I know this is a safe environment. My heart feels good...I feel fortunate and blessed.”

Songwriting workshop taught by Paul Stoddart

For anyone who loves Rock School or musical theater, now is your chance to take it to the next level!
In anticipation of PCYT’s Do It Yourself (DIY) spring musical, Patel Conservatory students are invited to enroll in a special songwriting workshop, taught by Rock School guru Paul Stoddart. The workshop starts this Thursday, Oct. 13.
Stoddart, a Patel Conservatory Rock School instructor, is a graduate of the Berklee School of Music with a major in songwriting, and has taught guitar and music theory, arrangement and songwriting for over two decades. He also performs throughout the Tampa Bay area.
“The class is geared towards students interested in participating in our original rock musical in the spring,” said Ami Sallee, chair of the Patel Conservatory theater department. Sallee has directed/performed in/written/produced 12 professional Tampa Bay original productions, including two original rock musicals that went on to have NYC premieres. She will direct and produce DIY, which will be based on/inspired by The Comedy of Errors by William Shakespeare.

"The songwriting workshop will give students a head start on their songwriting and composition skills,” said Sallee.

The 8-week workshop is open to all Patel Conservatory students in grades 9 - college who are interested in joining the cast or band for DIY in the spring. Play a chorded instrument (piano, guitar, etc.) is a plus. For more information, please call our registrar at 813-222-1040.

Songwriting Workshop
Thursdays, Oct. 13 to Dec. 8, 2011
6:30 to 8 p.m.
Cost: $200 for the workshop series ($100 will be applied to the DIY tuition for those who register for the spring musical)

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Theater guest blog: choreography

Guest blog by Ian Burns, Theater Apprentice for the Patel Conservatory at the Straz Center.
In addition to my theater apprentice tasks, I have been helping Susan Downey with some choreography over the past couple of weeks.  When Susan asked me to help her by letting her bounce ideas off me and stand-in as the male in a duet she was choreographing, I was shocked.  Susan knows me well and that I’m not a very good dancer, but she did ask and I stutteringly said y-y-yes.  
She had to choreograph a tango. First off, I was elated to work with Susan. She is not only an incomparable dancer and choreographer, but her energetic personality is contagious. It’s wonderful to work with her. Second, I got to choreograph, which is something I have never done and was a joy every minute!  Finally to top it off, I helped her teach it to the NGB dancers. Having a sister in the ballet program, and working with ballet dancers in previous PCYT productions, I knew it would be either a triumph or a flop. But as I predicted, they did marvelously.  
This project meant a lot to me. I’ve always wanted to dance, but never had the courage to ask my parents when I was younger. This project allowed me to fill in some pieces of a far fetched dream.

Friday, October 7, 2011

Theater guest blog: from the classrooms to backstage production

Guest blog by Colleen Crowder, Theater Apprentice for the Patel Conservatory at the Straz Center.

I have successfully made it a FULL week into the program! I can say that for the most part I kind of got the swing of things. I am familiar with who everyone is and where everything is for the most part. Today, while I was with production, I got to set up my first classroom. I had to help load in drum sets, keyboards and amplifiers. I can say that in all seriousness, those keyboards are heavy! I can definitely get my workout in with those.
On Monday, I was given an opportunity to conduct a few movement exercises with the Our Town cast. I had a blast and I feel like everyone was really receptive and embracing. It was nice to be included. I sat in during the time capsule exercise and took notes. It was so inspiring that I even got up and pretended as if I had brought something and I participated in the exercise as well. There is a big difference in the cast from a blocking, read through, rehearsal perspective to a movement and exercise perspective. I got to learn a lot about everyone from just sitting in the circle with them.
Earlier today I got a little more acquainted with Glynn [Owens]. He is absolutely awesome with the kids. Even there if a “button-pusher” he deals with them tactfully in a way that does not affect the learning of the other students. The children in all of the classes are extremely disciplined. I believe that the type of staff that are here have a lot to do with that as well.
As I walk through the halls from classrooms to offices, scene shops to stages, I observe the children. I can’t even begin to explain how much in awe I am whenever I see them. There is so much talent and potential in the entire building it is so amazing. While I was in the scene shop I overheard the Rock School class. First of all, anyone who can play any guitar is a genius in my book! The way the students caught on to the music was truly a delight to hear.
I have been spending a lot of time thinking about how much further I want to go with my career in theater. Honestly, being here makes me put all things into perspective. There’s so much to learn, so much to know and so much to do. I do feel like the sky is the limit. I appreciate having Ami [Sallee] around because she is extremely helpful. It’s good to have someone close by that can answer questions that I didn’t get resolved in college. I am looking forward to Our Town rehearsal later on tonight. Since joining the program it had been awhile since I sat in on a rehearsal. It’s good to get back into the swing of things.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

New program offers training for exceptional singers

Attention high school singers, do you dream of a career as a professional classical singer?
The Patel Conservatory announces a new program designed specifically for exceptional singers in grades 9 through 12 who’d like to pursue a singing career.
The Classical Voice Intensive for High School Students (CVI) is a multi-faceted program for serious young singers. The program provides instruction and performance experience that will help prepare students for college auditions and a career as a vocal performer.
Students are chosen for the CVI through an audition process that includes an application, a vocal audition and a personal interview.
The Classical Voice Intensive consists of four components:
Interested students must be able to read music and have good sight-reading skills and the ability to learn music independently.
For more information about this exciting new opportunity, please contact the Patel Conservatory music department at (813) 222-6456 or email Gregory Ruffer, Music Chair, at

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Dance teaches focus and discipline

When Alex Correa needed a new pair of ballet shoes last spring, he inherited a hand-me-down pair from another dancer at the Patel Conservatory, William Dugan.
Correa, left, with last year's Fritz, William
The shoes had the name Fritz written in them, the role Dugan played in last year’s The Nutcracker.
“William is a really good role model for him,” said Tammy Correa, Alex’s mom. “Alex thought they were his lucky shoes.”
Apparently, they were. In addition to the shoes, Alex inherited the role of Fritz in this year’s The Nutcracker.
“When we had auditions, I was thinking, if you don’t get it, it’s still an honor to be part of the production,” said the 12-year-old dancer from Davis Island. “When I got Fritz, I was on cloud nine!”
Correa started at the Patel Conservatory in an arts sampler summer camp when he was nine years old. There were very few boys in the dance program at the time.
With help from a financial aid scholarship, he was able to continue in dance, where he’s grown with the dance program, which now boasts technique classes just for boys.
The program has given Correa more than just dance training, it’s taught him the rewards of focus and discipline.
“When I started in ballet, I had bad ADHD,” said Correa. “I couldn’t concentrate...I couldn’t sit still. I hated schoolwork. It was terrible.”
Now, both Correa and his mom have seen an overall change in his ability to study and focus.
“[Dance] has instilled confidence in him, and shown him that nothing is insurmountable,” said Tammy. “He knows that with determination and focus he can do things that he was unsuccessful at before, like sitting down and giving an hour to math.”
“Being in a ballet class, I can concentrate, I don’t know why,” said Correa. “When you’re in a ballet class, it’s a lot of discipline, you’re always doing something.”
And the discipline has paid off with his new role as Clara’s mischievous brother.
“Even though ballet has a lot of rules, whenever I dance I feel free and alive,” said Alex. “That’s why I wanted the part of Fritz...because I love to be on stage and perform.”

For more about this year's The Nutcracker at the Straz Center for the Performing Arts, click here.

Monday, October 3, 2011

Theater guest blog: learning something new every day

Guest blog by Colleen Crowder, Theater Apprentice for the Patel Conservatory at the Straz Center.
Since day one of my experience here, I have felt a mixture of emotions. I’ve felt overwhelmed, excited, blessed and challenged. Being here thus far has been amazing. The staff is BEYOND helpful and very nice. Everyone is great at what they do.

I haven’t gotten the opportunity nor have I been exposed to the kinds of things that I have been doing here since high school. So it felt good getting back into it, but, at the same time, I felt like I had a desperate need to catch up. I’m getting back into the swing of things as I am hearing various theater terms as I walk through the halls.

The fact that I am even involved with The Straz Center is a blessing in itself. I had really begun to give up hope when I didn’t get a call back. I know how hard it is to even get a hand in the door in the theater business, so the idea of me even reaching out for the position was a stretch. My whole college career I worried about whether I would ever be given an opportunity to expand and enhance my knowledge and talent in performing arts. This program is truly letting me do that.
Today would be my third day and since day one I have learned something new. Nothing is repetitive and I appreciate that. What I appreciate most is that if at anytime I need a review on something, there is always someone to assist me. I really like working with Paul in the production room. I’m a little rusty on the production side, so it's good to be around the equipment and familiarize myself again.

Being in the classrooms are pretty awesome also. I enjoy seeing how receptive the children are. I have worked with children and dance before, but never in my life have I ever seen so many passionate kids. Their desire to learn is so inspiring.
Tonight I will be watching the Our Town rehearsal again; I’m actually looking forward to that. It's nice to be on the outside looking in. Being in this program has really made me look at directing in a different light. Each time I read the book,” I take a piece of what I have read, reflect on it and try to incorporate it in the read through. I am looking into purchasing the book myself, it really speaks to me. I enjoy the fact that it is so complex yet SO easy to comprehend.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Theater guest blog: blocking Our Town

Guest blog by Braxton Perry, cast member for PCYT's production of Our Town

Wednesday, Sept. 28, 2011
In our third week of Our Town classes and rehearsals, we went through something called blocking.
If you haven’t been in a play before, blocking is when the director gives out the directions of the play. Have you ever wondered how actors know where to walk, what door to open or where the door even is? That’s the magic of blocking. It tells us where to enter, where to walk to, what we do once we get there and where to exit. The director tells us all of this and we act it out on a mock stage. We write it in our script in pencil, which is very important since blocking can change.
We were in the TECO theater (where the performance will be; get some tickets!) with a few parts of the scenery on the stage. It’s the first time we’ve acted out the parts on an actual stage, so it presented some interesting challenges. Since the actor that played George (which is one of the main characters in the play) wasn’t there the first night of acting, Kerry Glamsch (the director) asked me to fill in for him. It was fun stepping into a role I hadn’t practiced, especially since I knew I could just have fun and not worry too much about having to be the character later on. I also got a chance to play my part of Professor Willard. I originally had planned to play him as a straight-on professor, but I’m going to play with making him a bit quizzical.
The next few days we worked on blocking Act 1. One day, it was really… fascinating seeing one of the first interactions between George and Emily (which are the love interests in Our Town). It was funny because the scene was written to be awkward, and since it was the first time they had really acted together, it was sort of doubly awkward. They got through it triumphantly in the end though, because they’re both great actors.
For the last few days we worked on the rest of Act 1. (Oh, did I mention that I’m also one of the choir members now as well? I actually have to sing two hymns live! Thankfully it’s not meant to be perfect, and it’s a choir, so I’ll be singing with around 12 other people.) On Monday I got to block out my other role, Constable Warren. I still haven’t completely decided on his personality, but I’m getting a better idea as we go along. We just finished blocking Act 1 on Monday, and tonight we’ll be starting to block on Act 2.
So that’s what happened the last few days. I’m learning a lot each class. If you want to get notified next time I post a blog, you can “like” Patel Conservatory on Facebook. Catch ya later!
[My] Teacher of the Week:
Ms. Melissa Stafford. She’s my ballet teacher, and she continually inspires me to achieve. She also makes teaching at my level feel like I’m working with the pros.
Things I like:
J'aime Fran├žais (I like French)
Pondering over intriguing gadgets (like a staple-less stapler)