Creativity in the Time of Covid–Nov. 28, 2021

VPA Welcomes Lizzi Nehls as Production Manager

Lizzi Nehls

The VPA is thrilled to announce the onboarding of Lizzi Nehls as the newest member of the Booker VPA team. Ms. Nehls is taking over as the production manager.

With experience including gigs on and off Broadway in stage management and production, Ms. Nehls brings a wealth of expertise to the role. Most recently, she worked as the Production Manager at Florida Studio Theatre, and has enjoyed tenure in production at the famed Hippodrome Theatre in Gainesville.

In her first week on the job, just prior to the break, she jumped right in, painting with Production students, assisting with setup for “Six Degrees of Separation,” and learning the ropes of high school all over again.

Ms. Nehls is excited to be a part of the Booker team. She takes over for Nick Jones, who left the position in October to pursue a career in law enforcement.

Dance: “Six Degrees of Separation” Unites

Ms. Courtney Smith, VPA Dance Artistic Director, addresses the crowd on Friday night. Photo by Leila Newcomb.

The Dance Department presented “Six Degrees of Separation” on Nov. 18-19, just prior to the Thanksgiving Break, and it proved a great way to set the tone for togetherness. With a focus on human connection and the many ways our relationships impact our world, the choreography was fraught with intensity and energy.

Pieces in modern, hip hop, ballet, and styles borrowing from African and Latin traditions were performed, each examining aspects of interaction.

Modern band students provide sizzling songs. Photo by Alexander Zickafoose.

Once again, VPA Music collaborated with Dance to present interlude and accompanying music. The folk band Zephyr and modern band Tempest both performed.

Famed Filmmaker Visits VPA Film & Animation

Judge Charles Williams, left, and Valerie Scoon. Photo by John Timpe.

Filmmaker and professor Valerie Scoon visited VPA Film & Animation’s studio on Nov. 19 to talk about her new documentary. “Invisible History: Middle Florida’s Hidden Roots” was shown as part of this year’s Visions of the Black Experience Film Festival, a joint effort that includes New College and the Sarasota Film Festival.

Dr. Scoon talked with moderator Circuit Court Judge Charles Williams and then answered questions posed by the students in Ms. Burton and Mr. Timpe’s classes, as well as Ms. Sherrell’s social studies class. The event was streamed live through Zoom, so that students from New College and Riverview High could also participate.

The talk covered Dr. Scoon’s extensive work in film, with time as a producer for Warner Bros. (including giving notes to Spike Lee on “Malcolm X”) and for Oprah Winfrey’s Harpo Productions. Her current film deals with the treatment of Black people in the area around Tallahassee, from the beginning of enslavement through the Civil Rights Era.

Scoon also serves as a filmmaker in residence at FSU, so she was able to give Booker students guidance on what the film program there seeks in applicants.

Focus on Film: On Set

VPA Film & Animation students were on set Nov. 20-21, filming at Booker High’s Law Academy Courthouse and at the Golden Host Resort on the North Trail.

The team’s film, “Sly Ryder,” includes a cast from throughout the state. Director Milania McNair, cinematographer Ayanna Dudley, gaffer Toby Jaffee, sound mixer Marlow Seah, and grip/PA Mikey Morehouse are shooting the story about a mobster’s niece who must choose between family and her flame – who happens to be an FBI agent.

VPA Theatre Students Learn Lesson in Casting

If you’re a fan of this newsletter, you may recall the story in the Nov. 7 newsletter highlighting a Theatre lesson. Students were assigned obscure musicals to research and present to their peers, through spoken word and dance. Ever heard of “Big: The Musical”? Neither had they, until excavating some of these gems and flops brought these forgotten works back into the light.

The panel of judges takes notes and offers feedback.

Fast forward to last week, when students embarked in an enrichment activity: this time, they had to teach choreography, via video links, to their peers. Once the peers learned the steps, they “auditioned” before a panel of judges–the team that initially researched and devised the choreography.

The lesson was captivating, both to the “hopefuls” and their panel of judges, who offered excellent feedback that helped hone performances.

Ms. Cynthia, who teaches dance to Theatre students, explained that the activity also gave the students the chance to see the mechanics of casting. As the resident musical choreographer (and director of the upcoming “Joseph”), she knows well the intricacies of casting. If they chose candidate A for one part, it necessarily dictated who they’d chose for some of the attending roles, based on body type and physical appearance.

Another big takeaway is the importance of personality: candidates brought their own ideas to the choreography, and the judges’ faces revealed which choices were stronger. It was helpful for students to see how these factors play a part in casting–it’s not always the most skilled dancer who gets the part. Casting is an art as rich and dynamic as any in the theatre world.

Coming Events!

Festive favorites will ring in the most wonderful time of the year, with performances in orchestra, jazz ensemble, wind ensemble, chorus, piano and more. 7 p.m. Dec. 2-3 at the First Presbyterian Church near Payne Park, 2050 Oak Street, Sarasota. This is a great event for the entire family.
The beloved musical by Andrew Lloyd Weber and Tim Rice is sure to lift spirits. With a focus on family and togetherness, it’s a great treat for the entire family. 7 p.m. Dec. 9-11 at the Municipal Auditorium, 801 N. Tamiami Trail, Sarasota.
The first in a series of events in partnership with The Hermitage Artist Retreat, renowned bassist Luke Stewart will perform at 5:30 on Dec. 17 at the Courtyard at BHS. The free concert will feature solo performance, storytelling, and a jam session featuring Booker band students.

Creativity in the Time of Covid–Nov. 7, 2021

Booker High Teacher Named District High School Teacher of the Year

Mrs. Urquiza is treated to a surprise celebration of this achievement.

Booker High School Spanish teacher Loridia Urquiza was surprised on Thursday with the announcement that she was named Sarasota County’s high school teacher of the year. Mrs. Urquiza teaches Spanish and has led several initiations to increase visibility and appreciation of Hispanic students at Booker and in the larger community.

In her touching acceptance speech, Mrs. Urquiza thanks her mother (left), who she calls “the best teacher I ever had.”

Originally from Cuba, Mrs. Urquiza infuses love of Spanish culture into her lessons, igniting her students’ passion for Hispanic heritage as well as the language. The largest demographic at BHS is the Hispanic community, with about 40% Hispanic learners. Mrs. Urquiza has worked tirelessly to foster schoolwide understanding of this culture to maximize student achievement among this population.

Leading such causes as the celebrations of Hispanic Heritage Month, Mrs. Urquiza has brought positive awareness of Hispanic heritage. This year, she organized a coffee and pastry tasting, lunchtime dance and music celebrations and more.

The celebration included remarks from Dr. Shelley, with the Whirlwind Brigade playing a festive march and Vocal Vortex serenading Mrs. Urquiza in her native language.

Along with all she’s accomplished for the culture of BHS, Mrs. Urquiza has consistently produced students who have mastered the Spanish language. According to Dr. Shelley, Mrs. Urquiza is the only teacher in the nation to have a 100% passing rate on the AICE Spanish Language exam.

Booker High relishes this recognition; this is the second consecutive year the district’s high school teacher of the year has been a BHS teacher. Last year, BHS’s Becky Satterly earned this award.

Fabulous Forecast Festival

Booker VPA hosted the second annual Forecast Festival on Nov. 6. The festival showcased all the VPA disciplines, inviting guests into classrooms to observe rehearsals and studio sessions, and culminating in a performance and exhibit.

Huge special thanks to Superintendent Dr. Brennan Asplen and Executive Director of High Schools Steve Cantees for spending Saturday morning with us.

Check out these pics!

Whirlwind Brigade is SNN’s Marching Band of the Week

Booker’s Whirlwind Brigade Marching Band was featured this week on SNN. Check out the video here!

The Whirlwind Brigade ends its season with a competition Nov. 13 at Riverview High School in Hillsborough County.

Band Concert Displays Talents

The week began with an intimate outdoor Band concert featuring our jazz and wind ensembles. The occasion marked the debut performance of the VPA’s newest combo, Storm Surge, a jazz combo directed by Tim Eaton.

Classroom Focus: Musical Theatre

We all know “Hamilton” and “West Side Story,” but did you know that there is such a thing as “Big: The Musical”? Neither did the VPA Theatre classes, but they learned about “Big” and other deeply buried gems and flops of musical theatre history.

Exuberance: Students present from “Contact: A Dance Musical”

They researched the musicals’ choreographies and histories, learning about aesthetics and trends through Broadway history. This week they presented their findings in dance, music and spoken word.

Upcoming Events!

VPA Dance will proudly present an evening of dance highlighting the myriad touchpoints we have with one another in “Six Degrees of Separation,” coming up Nov. 18 & 19. The concert will feature modern, ballet, Flamenco, African dance, hip hop and more. Get your tickets today here!

Creativity in the Time of Covid–Oct. 31, 2021

HOCO 2021–A Week in Pictures

This week was Homecoming Spirit week, a time to unify and celebrate the culture of Booker High School. It was a fantastic, fun week, with spirit dress-up days, a door decorating contest, and a pep rally in Tornado Alley.

And then, of course, there was the Homecoming Game against the Hardee Wildcats. With the cool fall weather descending upon Sarasota, Saturday’s outdoor Homecoming Dance was a hit!

Hermitage Artist Retreat Partners with Booker VPA

The Hermitage Artist Retreat, a multi-disciplinary destination for artmakers to create new works of theatre, literature, visual art and more, has partnered with Booker VPA. The two organizations will work together to create access to world-class artists.

The series, “Hermitage @ Booker,” will bring diverse artists to the Booker High School campus, providing access to students, families, staff, and our community.

The first event is an evening with musician Luke Stewart on Dec. 17 at 5:30 p.m. Stewart is an innovative artist who Downbeat Magazine named “one of the 25 most influential jazz musicians” of his generation in 2020. It will be an honor to host an artist of his caliber on our campus.

Celebrated jazz bassist and composer Luke Stewart is known for his bold experimentation on the cutting edge of musicianship. He shares an improvisatory selection of his work, leads a “jam session” with local artists and students, and discusses his creative process.

The event is free to Booker students with an ID using the promo code STUDENT. Registration is $5 for everyone else. Bring your lawn chairs and enjoy this incredible outdoor performance.

Dancers Enjoy UF/Santa Fe Masterclass

A ballet class delivered through Zoom.

On Oct. 29, VPA Dancers participated in a series of masterclasses delivered through the University of Florida’s School of Theatre + Dance and Santa Fe Community College’s Dance program. They took class in modern, ballet, west African, and Afro-Brazilian. Afterward, they enjoyed a “brown bag lunch” with college professors. As they lunched, they could ask questions and learn more about the degree programs and the colleges.

Dancing Through Career Exploration

Students absorb Augustine’s wisdom.

Students in the Dance Program explore dance-related careers in Ms. Courtney’s Pre-AP dance class, where they dive into the many paths this interest can take them.

This week, they researched the specialized field of dance photography, then met with local artist Sorcha Augustine. A former dancer and figure model, Augustine trained in visual arts at Ringling College of Art + Design. She now trains her lens on theatre and dance performances, and also shoots portraits. Clients include Sarasota Contemporary Dance and Westcoast Black Theatre Troupe.

Augustine dispensed career insights. She shared her own story, her process for capturing energetic, intimate shots, and offered some of the barriers she’s faced as an artist.

Upcoming Events

If you’ve ever wondered what goes on behind the scenes, the FREE Forecast Festival is for you! It’s an invitation to families to see classes and rehearsals in all disciplines, check out our studios and spaces, and witness a performance featuring all disciplines.

From 10-11 a.m., guests will be treated to a self-guided tour of workshops, classes, and rehearsals. At 11 a.m., there will be a short performance and exhibition. On the lineup: numbers from the upcoming Dance Show and Musical (“Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat”), a performance of Category 5, Zephyr, our Jazz Ensemble, chamber orchestra, classical guitar and more.

This is a great event for prospective families, but also for current families or VPA fans curious about the dynamic and unique program offerings in this program of local legend.

Tuning into connectivity in this moment in history is vital. The pandemic and social and political upheaval have forced us through unprecedented isolation. Quarantine, concurrent learning, social distancing, and a fractured political climate have left many feeling less connected than ever.

“Six Degrees of Separation” probes the links between us we may not even be aware of. Through movement, dancers express ideas that may not have linguistic parallels. Featured in this outdoor performance will be ballet, modern, dance from the African diaspora, and hip hop.

Share an evening of inspiring movement that may just leave you feeling a bit more knitted into humanity.

Creativity in the Time of Covid–Oct. 10, 2021

Dance Students Wrap Week with UF Master Class

University of Florida Associate Professor of Dance and Choreography Trent Dwight Williams visited the VPA Dance studios to offer a master class on Oct. 8.

The students were ebullient as they learned his choreography. Williams emphasized important dance concepts, like creating the illusion of lightness, with humor. Of weightlessness, he quipped, “If you can’t hear my 180 (pounds) hit that ground, I shouldn’t be able to hear your 110!” Joking aside, it worked! The dancers worked so hard it appeared effortless.

Trent Dwight Williams, Associate Professor of Dance and Choreography

Williams’ career has included teaching at several colleges, including Howard University and the University of Maryland, but it’s probably his performances with acts like Destiny’s Child that resonated most with the dancers. Throughout the lesson, his humorous approach to feedback kept spirits as soaring as their grand jetes.

Millie Menke and Christian Hall take a quick break during class.

After the class, he shared information about UF’s School of Theatre + Dance and informed students about the audition process.

Hispanic Music Artists Celebrated for Hispanic Heritage Month

The hallways of building 8 are papered with posters featuring Hispanic artists that have influenced US culture and the arts. Students have been busy selecting and researching artists of interest to showcase in the halls.

Mr. Zickafoose Featured on ABC-7 for World Teacher Day

Mr. Z just can’t stay out of the spotlight! Fresh off his leading role as Pippin in Manatee Players’ “Pippin,” and appearance at Saturday Night Fever, he’s in the limelight again. In this interview on Suncoast View, his love for teaching is evident.

The son of educators, Mr. Z’s passion for his students is clear in everything he does, from his student-centered repertoire to his festive classrooms. The interview will shed light on what’s to love about this energetic, popular, visionary music teacher. Click the screenshot below to view the video!

Music Student’s Spirit and Grit Featured on Fox News

If you came out to Saturday Night Fever, you witnessed the music sensation that is Levi Gobin tickling the ivories for a number of modern hits. Levi, a new member of the VPA family, is a gifted pianist and musician with great aspirations. Despite his blindness, Levi displays tremendous vision when it comes to music and performance.

It turns out, music isn’t the only area in which he excels. The video highlights Levi’s training for a hardcore 5k obstacle competition on Oct. 9. Check out the spirited and gifted Levi, and his quest to shatter every boundary, by clicking the screenshot below!

BHS Invited to Event on Inclusion in the Arts

BHS Assistant Principal Greg Rumph joined a panel of other education leaders at FST’s Gompertz Theatre on Oct. 4 to discuss equity in the arts in Sarasota. The event, sponsored by the Suncoast Black Arts Collaborative’s Michele Redwine, explored diversity in the arts in Sarasota. Rumph joined a panel including college presidents, diversity officers, and Black art students to field questions about the Black experience in arts education programs. USF’s Center for PAInT (Partnership for Arts Integrated-Teaching) director Dr. Denise Davis-Cotton moderated.

Michele Redwine delivers closing remarks. The panel includes students Ayeola Whitworth (New College); Jesse Clark (Ringling CAD); Krystle Lemonias (USF); Fred Brown (SCF); college presidents Dr. Karen Holbrook (USF); Dr. Patricia Okker (New College); Dr. Carol Probsfeld (SCF); Dr. Larry Thompson (Ringling CAD); school leaders Greg Rumph; Dr Brenda Pinkney (SCF); Dr. William Woodson (New College); Samone Hicks (SCF).

Those questions ranged from the personal (“What kind of art makes you smile?”) to the political (“What steps is your organization taking towards a more inclusive arts experience?”). The discussion, from multiple perspectives and with a range of responses, was honest and illuminating. The work the Suncoast Black Arts Collaborative is doing has a goal of creating access to quality arts education.

Upcoming Events

Be sure to check out these upcoming events!

“Greek Freaks: Student Written Greek Plays” runs Oct 16 & 17 at 2 p.m., with an evening performance at 7 p.m. on Oct. 16, in the BHS Café. Written and directed by students, under the supervision of Ms. Sunny Smith, “Greek Freaks” is an intersection of ancient and modern. Classic such as the Midas and Medusa stories are rewritten in modern contexts.

The VPA Art Print Party, at 6 p.m. Oct. 22, is a fun take on an art exhibit. Original student designs are screen-printed on garments (T-shirts, aprons, bags, and more), so guests take home a practical souvenir. This year, Art Department Chair Steve Strenk has envisioned a drive-thru concept, so guests will roll up, order, and have their goods delivered via roller skating artists. Pre-printed items: $10 + fees, BYO garment to be printed for $5 + fees.

The BHS VPA Forecast Festival, held from 10 a.m.-12 p.m. on Nov. 6, is a one-stop-shop for anyone interested in Booker VPA. With performances, games, tours, and interactive activities, the festival gives prospective families a chance to see the school and learn what we have to offer. Tell your middle school friends or anyone considering Booker VPA for the upcoming year.