Friday, March 30, 2012

Meet the cast of Once Upon a Mattress

With the Patel Conservatory Youth Theater production of Once Upon a Mattress starting soon, here’s a few fun facts about some of the cast.
They told us what they love about performing, and some interesting tidbits about themselves!

Kelly Coultas, 13
Lady Larken

At the age of 8, Kelly was cast as Fern in Charlotte’s Web, and, “boom, I found my calling!” She enjoys singing and has recorded in Nashville. She loves that this show is a funnier version of The Princess and the Pea.
Something interesting about herself: “Last spring I met the cast of Anything Goes in New York. I went backstage and met Sutton Foster, my Broadway idol!”

McKayla Whiteside, 11, of S. Tampa
Queen Aggravaine
McKayla Whiteside, right.

This is her first role at the Patel Conservatory. She loves performing because it helps her believe in herself. She says she’s a strong vocalist and people tell her she’s a prodigy.
“Theater is everything to me. Without it, my world would come to an end.”
Caileigh Potter, 13, of Hyde Park
Lucille and Beatrice
A choir and theater student, she’s been at the Patel Conservatory for two years, where she feels she’s learned a lot about being on stage.
“There are so many fun jokes in Mattress, it’s hard not to laugh.”
Bianca Rivera Inons, 11, of Waterchase
Princess #12 and Knight
A student at Patel Conservatory for four years, she’s taken dance, theater, choir and private acting lessons. She always loved seeing musicals and plays, so naturally, she wanted to be in them. “Studying the performing arts has helped me to break out of my comfort zone and try something new.”
She’s excited about the set and props for Mattress. “They’re going to be out of this world.”
She has a violet chinchilla, she hates chocolate, and her favorite dance move is rolling on the floor.
And, “I am obsessed with bunnies.”
Macy Scanlan, 12, of S. Tampa
An acting student at Patel Conservatory for two years, she enjoys the performing arts because, “it’s something that I’m good at and it’s very fun. I have become more outgoing.”
She says Once Upon a Mattress is a really exciting and fun show that keeps you entertained.

Once Upon A Mattress runs April 12 - April 21, 2012. For tickets, click here.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Theater instructor produces original clown theater production

This weekend, Patel Conservatory theater instructor Matthew Belopavlovich brings his original clown-theater production Lauffiti to the stage.
Belopavlovich was recently the assistant director for The Bear Went Over the Mountain and he’ll co-direct this summer’s PCYT production of Normal.
In Lauffiti, Belopavlovich shows off his clowning talents and incorporates contemporary dance, original music spun by a DJ, digital media, lyrical hip-hop dance and graffiti art to create a theatrical experience.
If you’d like to support our teaching artists in the community, Lauffiti runs tonight through April 1, 2012 at the Silver Meteor Gallery in Ybor City. Click here for more info.

Belopavlovich, left, with Jordon Rodnizki, center, winner
of the Broadway Star of the Future award.

Summer Splash was a great success!

Lowry Park shows off their friends.

Thanks to everyone who showed up for Summer Splash last weekend. We had a fantastic turnout!
Enjoying the bounce house!
More than 500 people came by the Patel Conservatory to check out summer camps and classes from places throughout Tampa Bay.
We had more than 45 people register for summer camps and classes here at the Patel Conservatory!

If you haven't registered yet, don't worry...With more than 70 camps and classes this summer in dance, music and theater, there's so much to choose from. Click here for our online summer brochure.
It was a gorgeous day overlooking the river! 

Come back again to enjoy another free afternoon on the river at the upcoming Rock School Blowout on Sat., April 7, 2012 at 1 p.m. Great bands, food and fun!

Patel Conservatory choir performs
Landon Green, Theater Apprentice, shows off the
Patel Conservatory costume shop.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Spotlight on Alexa Lowrey

After three years at the Patel Conservatory, Alexa Lowrey was ready for a lead role.
As Winifred in PCYT’s upcoming production of Once Upon a Mattress, 10-year-old Alexa has really come into her own as an actress, says her mom Michele de Lucca-Lowrey.
“She feels like she’s actually Winifred,” said Michele. “The way [the instructors] choose the children for the roles, they fit the characters so well... I think this production is going to be one of the best we’ve had.”
A music teacher at Lockhart Elementary who’s been teaching for 30 years, Michele is impressed with the level of professionalism her daughter gets at the Patel Conservatory.
As a mom and volunteer for many PCYT shows, “I’ve been with several of [the kids] for a long time. You see the difference in their vocal development and acting skills and self confidence,” she said.
Music seems to run in Michele’s family. Her mother sang at the Cathedrals of England.

“Alexa sings really well, like my mom,” said Michele, who also sings, and plays trumpet.
A student at Lockhart, Alexa has been in many school plays and had roles in PCYT’s Annie, Cinderella and Seussical the Musical.
“The Patel Conservatory is a lot more serious, it makes the show a lot better,” said Alexa. “It’s serious, but it’s really fun.”
While the cast and instructors have been working hard to rehearse and develop the show and actors’ skills, the end product is a fun, light-hearted performance with lots of snappy dialogue and comic entrances.
On playing Winifred, Alexa says, “She’s a really fun character in a working kind of way. She’s a really weird character, she has melodramatic moments. Once you have it, it’s really fun.”

Friday, March 23, 2012

Broadway Star of the Future Award winners announced

We are delighted to announce the winners of the Straz Center’s Broadway Star of the Future Award...

The Broadway Star of the Future Award for Best Actress goes to
Samantha Schneider- Behen!

The Broadway Star of the Future Award for Best Actor goes to
Jordan Rodnizki!

Samantha attends Howard W. Blake School of the Arts, and she was nominated for her role as Lucille Frank in Parade. Her outstanding vocals and commitment to her character allowed for her to truly come into her own as an actress and step into the spotlight.
Jordan attends Countryside High School and was nominated for his role as Prospero in Return to the Forbidden Planet. His strong stage presence, vocals, and consistency with his character allowed for Jordan to really shine. 
The 2012 winners were recently announced during the closing ceremonies of the Florida State Thespian Festival on Sat., March 17, 2012. The winners chosen showed excellence in their performance in a musical theater production.
As recipients of the Broadway Star of the Future Award, Samantha and Jordan will be traveling to New York City this summer to represent the state of Florida and the David A. Straz, Jr. Center for the Performing Arts in the National High School Musical Theater Awards.
Congratulations and break a leg, Jordan and Samantha!

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Spotlight on Landon Harris

When Landon Harris auditioned for NGB’s ballet summer intensive in Denver, Colo. last month, he immediately knew he wanted to train with Peter Stark, NGB’s artistic director.
“I liked all of his corrections and the way he put the class together,” said Landon, 14, of Denver.
At the time, Landon was looking into a full-time ballet program for the fall. But his plans soon changed. He and his family decided to pack up and move to Tampa so Landon could begin his training with Stark right away.
Landon joins the Patel Conservatory this week as a NGB New Artist. He’ll perform along with NGB dancers this Friday in On the Edge and in May in Swan Lake.
“We knew we’d be leaving with him sooner or later for his training. We thought in the fall. We just pulled our time frame up a little,” laughs Bev Harris, Landon’s mother, who’s been busy this week looking for a place to live in Tampa.
Landon’s mom and twin brother, Ashton will live here while dad George, a financial business consultant, will commute from Denver whenever possible to spend time with the family.
Bev is accustomed to following her son across the country in pursuit of his dreams. Last year, Landon was part of the cast of the Broadway tour of Billy Elliot. In fact, he first heard about the Patel Conservatory when he was here at the Straz with the show last year.
“Touring was a great experience. I got to work with a Broadway company, with Tony Award winning actors and actresses,” said Landon, who played one of the boxing students and a ballet student. “It made me more professional...and more comfortable on stage.”
Landon began dancing when he was three years old with the Academy of the Colorado Ballet. In 2009, he began studying at the National Ballet Academy of Denver. He's performed in numerous productions with the Colorado Ballet, including The Nutcracker, Midsummer Night's Dream and in Swan Lake.
He recently placed 1st in Contemporary and 2nd in Classical in the junior division of the the Youth America Grand Prix regionals in Denver. He will compete at the finals in New York City in April.
He also performs with Silhouettes, a professional dance company in which dancers perform “in shadow” behind a screen. His position with NGB will be his first full-time ballet program.
“Yesterday was my first full day, and I’m feeling it,” he said. “It’s a lot of hands-on training. It’s constant, but it’s what I love.”
“For Landon, the tougher it is, the better it is,” said Bev.

An avid skier and snowboarder who tackles the toughest trails and moguls, Landon loves a challenge.
“I like the difficulty and challenge [of ballet]. You have to make it flow but also be masculine and strong,” he said. “You’re always working, you never really master it.”
Don’t miss Landon and NGB’s stunning New Artists this Friday, Mar. 23, 2012 in On the Edge and in Swan Lake on May 12, 2012.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Rock School student goes from video games to concert stage

He started with the video game Rock Band. Like a lot of kids his age, Matthew Sichterman, 15, of Tarpon Springs, enjoyed banging the drums of the popular game.
“That was my formal training. It just came naturally, I guess, after a while,” said Matthew. A couple of years later, he now plays drums for two different bands.
Matthew will be performing along with 15 other bands at the upcoming Rock School Blowout on April 7 on the Riverwalk.
As a homeschool student, Matthew started an informal band with a couple of kids from his homeschool co-op. They'd get together and jam, and even had a gig playing for their homeschool winter formal dance.
This year, he decided to expand his repertoire and join the Rock School program at the Patel Conservatory.
“He wanted to experience a different sort of atmosphere with different bandmates,” explained his mom, Kim Sichterman.

"it's the best, I look forward to it every week," said Matthew. "It's great to play with other people and jam with them every week."
A versatile performer, Matthew also plays guitar, bass and keyboards, and enjoys singing and acting. His homeschool group recently wrote a screenplay and shot and acted in their own short film.
He’ll stretch his performance skills further at the Rock School Blowout as he takes on vocals.
“It’ll be fun singing in front of people I don’t know, which I’ve never done before. It’ll be cool,” said Matthew.

His Rock School band Wasteful Youth, includes Daniel Wilson, guitar, Sarah Aloia, bass, Stefan Swaans, guitar, Parker Wilkson, piano and Ryan Guard, guitar.

The band will perform Nights of Cydonia by Muse, and Already Gone by Bayside.
Check out Matthew and all our Rock School bands in our biggest Rock School Blowout yet!
This free outdoor concert will be April 7 at 1 p.m. on the Riverwalk at the Straz Center.

Wynton Marsalis and jazz band inspire young musicians

Walter Blanding, tenor saxophone with Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra, recently told a group of music students that playing an instrument can make them a better person.

As part of our community outreach program, about 15 jazz students from Inverness Middle School attended the jazz concert at the Straz Center, which featured Wynton Marsalis. Inverness Middle School is one of our community partners.
The school’s music director Barbara Dover accompanied the students to the concert. She shares her experience here:
Barbara Dover with Wynton Marsalis at the Straz Center.
By Barbara Dover, Music Director at Inverness Middle School
The concert last night was amazing! You know it's going to be great when the orchestra gets a standing "O" before they ever play a note! Marsalis quipped something like, "We haven't even played yet; you need to sit down." They opened with Marsalis' "Bullet Train" from the Big Train CD, which was great for my students since we had listened to some of that CD in class. Then they played “Senor Blues” by Carlos Henriquez, the bass player. Loads of solos on everything they played. Then "Black Warrior" by Sherman Irby, the lead alto sax player, but the saxes played everything onstage from flutes to bass clarinets. Then a version of "Itsy Bitsy Spider" by Marsalis was the closer of the first set. Cool chart.
The second set flew by with 2 movements from "Vitoria Suite:" "Jason and Jasone" and "Basque Song." Have to get that CD since I've heard lots from that suite on this tour, from either the live streaming or live concert. Through the brain fog of this morning, I can't remember the name of the other chart, but they closed the set with Marsalis' version of Art Blakey's "Free For All." (Marsalis' introduction to that chart reminisced from playing in Blakey's band when he was 18-19 and how "sad" they were. He said that after the concert, Blakey would say, "That was sad. Meet us in Boston." And after that concert, Blakey would say, "That was sad. Meet us in Baltimore.")
After that fantastic closer, the crowd went wild with a couple of other musicians (local maybe?) on trumpet and trombone coming out to play a Dixieland chart. (The kids thought it was "Rock Around The Clock" due to the chord progressions, but the melody didn't sound quite like that to me.) And then more applause from the audience prompted a second encore with just Marsalis in a major trumpet groove, Dan Nimmer on piano, Carlos Henriquez on bass, and Ali Jackson on drums. Fabulous! (The house lights were up at that time, so I threw out the rules and shot a few photos. Our seats were that good, Orchestra Row R!)
Then my Jazz Band kids, their parents, and I went down to the stage to meet and get autographs from trombonist Vincent Gardner who was talking to folks. (I didn't get his autograph.) After that, we stood outside at the stage door to meet musicians as they left.
We met and got autographs from Marcus Printup, trumpet, who is from Conyers, GA. He asked the kids their favorite musicians and one of my trumpets, Jenny, told him Louis Armstrong because of his technique. He commented on how intelligent an answer that was since technique didn't always mean playing a lot of notes, but also meant understanding the nuance of the instrument. He gave her an "A+" for her answer. I conversed with him about euphoniumist Adam Frey who is from Conyers and coincidentally went to the same high school as him, except Printup is 10 years older. (Printup signed my Big Train CD liner and remarked that the young boy on the front of the liner was now 16 and is Marsalis' son.)
Victor Goines, tenor saxophone, talked about being in kindergarten with Marsalis and how they grew up together playing music. He told my saxophonist Brittany to listen to Coltrane's "Giant Steps" recording and mentioned how Marsalis was playing Coltrane on his trumpet at a young age. When asked what "equipment" he uses, he listed brand after brand from Selmer Mark VI saxes to Selmer and Buffet clarinets. He told us his collection of saxophones was his only vice and how his teaching at Northwestern helps to pay for them. When he autographed my Big Train CD liner, he said that he helped to take down those arrangements.

We had the most wonderful inspirational talk from Walter Blanding, tenor saxophone. He told the kids,

Playing an instrument allows them to get to know themselves better and express themselves creatively.

He shared that,

No matter what they end up being or doing, playing an instrument can make them become a better person.

He talked about the therapy of playing a keyboard or something that you can see and strike! He was awesome! I wish I could have videotaped that whole talk; it was at least 10 minutes of advice and words of wisdom!
We chatted with and got autographs from Carlos Henriquez, bass, and I told him about seeing his wife chat during the concert that was live-streamed from Atlanta about the lions-head scroll on his bass. He groaned and said that she must have written that he said it looked like her when she was mad at him! (Which she did.) 
Then out came the chains to keep those of us that were still there from mobbing Marsalis. We waited and the kids got a little antsy, but understandably so. One of my trumpets, Graham, was quiet and said he was conserving his energy, for meeting Marsalis?
We waited awhile longer and then Wynton Marsalis came through the stage door saying, "Y'all have been waiting a long time," and walked over to us first! He signed my "Marsalis on Music" book, ticket stub, and CD liner for Big Train that already had autographs on it from Printup, Goines, Blanding, and Henriquez. I told him that 10 years, 1 month, and 1 day ago, some more of my jazz band kids and I saw him in Gainesville and that I was sure he remembered us! He laughed and said, "I sure do!" Then I had my photo taken with him and commented, "This is gonna be my new facebook profile picture!" and he laughed and laughed. One of my kids told him she liked his blue tie and I mentioned that they noticed that the sections color coordinate their ties. He commented, "Oh, you know that's something trumpets do." When one of my parents said he had an awesome trombone section because her son Andrew plays trombone, he gave her a look as if to say, "Hey, what about the trumpets?!" (About halfway through the "meet and greet," security took down the chains, saying that Marsalis had requested that be done with the remark, "This is jazz; take those down.")

He signed autographs and talked to the kids. I got a parent to have a couple more CD liners autographed for me. I took some more photos of parents and kids with Marsalis, and as we left, I told Marsalis that after that concert 10 years ago, he kissed my Mama and how she still talks about it. He remarked, "Tell her I enjoyed it very much!"

Such a kind, funny, talented, and generous man.
It was an eventful evening and one that I know the kids, their parents, and I will remember for a long, long time.

Friday, March 16, 2012

Spotlight on T.J. Couch, Straz supporter of arts education

Meet T.J. Couch, a successful business professional.

A native of Tampa, Couch worked at the Museum of Science and Industry for 19 years, most recently as the Director of Business Enterprises.

Now the vice-president of the University Commercial Center, a commercial property management company, Couch uses his success to give back to his community. He volunteers for numerous charitable organizations and foundations, including the Straz Center.
“My perspective is a little unique. I know a lot about the mechanics of how the Patel Conservatory works, but I don’t have children taking classes there, so I don’t get to see it in operation,” said Couch, a member of the Straz Center's Board of Trustees, and the co-chair of the Patel Conservatory Education Committee.
When Couch attended the Patel Conservatory's Spotlight Awards last spring, he was treated to an overall perspective of the fruits of his labor.
“I spend a lot of time in meetings discussing what goes on at the Conservatory, but it was fun to actually see the magic,” said Couch.
The 2012 Spotlight Awards are on the horizon. Now in its second year, this annual event is more than just an awards show.
“The awards are a celebration of the Conservatory’s successes over the course of the year, but there’s another important component. It's also a fundraiser,” said Couch. “Attendance is encouraged, but other forms of support are encouraged as well.”
Couch practices what he preaches. A longtime supporter of the Straz Center and the Patel Conservatory, he gives of his time, talent and treasure because he believes in arts education.
“I enjoy that spark that happens when people learn something new, or get really good at some new talent. I think arts education is one of the greatest ways to transform a community,” said Couch, who also played in one of our Rock School bands last year.
The Spotlight Awards is the only production at the Patel Conservatory that brings together performances from all three of our departments: dance, music and theater.
Parents, educators, community partners and supporters get an overview of everything that goes on at the Conservatory. If you’ve never seen Rock School, or a ballet performance or a musical theater production, it’s your chance see it all at one event.
It’s also your chance to support the Conservatory. By sponsoring the event, or placing a parent dedication, you’re helping the Conservatory bring the best of arts education not only to our classrooms, but to thousands of children in the community through our outreach programs.
“The Conservatory is more than just a three-story building. It reaches out to the community, and brings the performing arts to a lot of children on a level that they’d never be able to experience any other way,” said Couch.
“I’m happy and willing to volunteer my time and assets to further arts education.”

For more information about donations and sponsorships, contact Sharon McDonald at 813-222-1037 or

T.J. Couch on keyboards with his Rock School band at the
Spring 2011 Rock School Blowout

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

And the nominees are...

by Tina James, Education Programs Coordinator at the Patel Conservatory
An atmosphere that can only be described as electric has taken over the Straz Center. The Florida State Thespians are here! So many bright, talented actors have been in the building this week for the Florida State Thespian Conference preparing to shine and we can’t wait to see what they bring to the stage!
For the third year in a row, the David A. Straz, Jr. Center for the Performing Arts will be awarding one male actor and one female actress with a Broadway Star of the Future Award in recognition of their outstanding performance in a musical theater production.
The selection process began last fall at district competitions. Schools with one-act mainstage productions were adjudicated, and the top eight students based on these results were chosen as nominees for the awards.

These finalists are judged based on DVD submissions of their performances and the top-scoring actor and actress will be named the winners.

The nominees are:
  • Chandler Morehead, American Heritage High School
  • Katie Michaels, Countryside High School
  • Lexi Carter, A. W. Dreyfoos School of the Arts
  • Samantha Schneider-Behen, Howard W. Blake School of the Arts
  • Jacob Waldron, West Orange High School
  • Jordon Rodnizki, Countryside High School
  • Joshua Grosso, American Heritage High School
  • Marc Wakim, Gulf Breeze High School
Winners will be announced during the closing ceremony of the Florida State Thespian Conference this Sat., March 17, 2012.

The winners will have the opportunity to represent the state of Florida and the Straz Center for the Performing Arts at The National High School Musical Theater Awards this summer (June 20-26, 2012) in New York City. 
Stay tuned to find out the winners!

Theater student pursues her passion

When the Rodriguez family decided to move to Florida from Hesperia, California last year, they wanted to make sure their kids had access to all the activities they enjoyed. 
For 12-year-old Angela Rodriguez, theater is her passion.
“We looked at different cities, like Orlando, Jacksonville, Miami,” explained Belkis Rodriguez.
The Patel Conservatory was the deciding factor that brought them to the Tampa area.
“They had lots of classes for all ages...and the fact that it’s connected to the Straz Center, that gives [Angela] something she can look towards,” said Belkis.
Angela Rodriguez, left, as Queen Aggravain
Angela, a student at Seminole Middle School, plays Queen Aggravain in PCYT’s upcoming production of Once Upon a Mattress. She got hooked on theater when she played a lioness in a school play in the first grade. She continued in school plays, classes and community theater productions.
Since joining the Patel Conservatory, her mom says, “I’m loving it and she’s loving it.”
“I love being in a production with kids my own age,” said Angela. In her former town, the closest theater program was at a community college, where the shows were geared towards college students.
“She’s really impressed with the program here,” said Belkis. “Even though she’s done theater for years, she’s learning things she hasn’t learned before.”
“[The instructors] explain things in depth,” said Angela. She says she’s learned a lot about character development and using experiences in her own life to tap into her character on stage.
Another plus about the Conservatory is the fact that Angela’s performance classes are all in one place.
“We used to do dance at one place, theater at another place,” said Belkis. With Angela’s two older brothers in baseball, and a younger brother in hockey, it can certainly be a lot. Being at the Conservatory several days a week, Belkis often sits in her car with her laptop and studies for her Florida real estate exam, but she takes it in stride.
Last October, Belkis suffered a heart attack.
“I totally died, I had to be resuscitated. You look at life differently,” she said. “I don’t sweat the small things anymore. I want to know that my kids are doing what they want to do.”
“I am so grateful, because if I didn’t have my mom, I wouldn’t be able to do this,” said Angela.
She’s looking forward to playing the role of the manipulative Queen Aggravain.
“I love playing evil parts, I don’t know why,” she laughs. “To her son, she’s the sweetest person, but to the people in the royal court, she’s the rudest person ever.”
Check out Angela in PCYT’s Once Upon a Mattress April 12 - 20, 2012 in the TECO Theater!