Creativity in the Time of Covid–May 29, 2022

Rebecca Abrahamson Bids Farewell…

For those of you not aware, the end of this school year will mark the end of my two-decade career at Booker High School. Anyone in my orbit in the past year or so has heard my schtick: “By now, I’ve spent nearly half my life at 3201 North Orange Avenue.”

Chapter 1: Becky King Gets Accepted into Theatre

I was lucky enough to be accepted into the VPA Theatre program in 1988. In high school, I was extremely grateful for Booker VPA. Those who know me know that it changed the course of my life. I’d had a less-than-ideal childhood–I’d lived with a single mom who had a hard time making ends meet, became terminally ill in her 40s, and succumbed at 50 to COPD; I was 12 at the time. All this had led to my being a terrible student, totally uninterested in school, with no concept of future or citizenship. Booker changed that for me, instilling in me a sense of self worth, drive, and connectivity with the world. I have been proud to witness this “Booker way” impacting countless students.

My long history with Booker, its deeply interwoven presence in my life, has been a point of pride and identity for me. Booker High School has, no doubt, played an integral role in shaping the person, citizen, and thinker I am today. However, the fact of my employment at the school was unplanned entirely.

My first Booker show, “My Cup Runneth Over,” was student directed by Karma Tiffany.


Indeed, I had no interest in a career in schools. I’d earned a Bachelor’s of Art in English lit and a Master’s of Art in Mass Communications and anticipated a career focused in communications. But when the opportunity arose to teach Mass Communications and advise the newspaper, The Lance, at the erstwhile Manatee Community College, I seized it. It so happened that my boss there also needed help at Booker High School. I couldn’t pass it up. The rest of the 20 year saga of my career there inevitably followed.

Chapter 2: VPA TV & Film–Fledgling Film Teacher

In my first decade as a Booker employee, I worked alongside the legendary Mark Loomis in what started as the TV & Media Arts Department. Turns out, the students had no interest in “media arts,” whatever that might mean, and after collaborating with them on what they’d like the curriculum to be, we switched gears. We were all spirit in those days, and the flexibility afforded by higher powers made for easy shifts.

Mark Loomis and me in the old TV studio, building 3.

We became the TV & Film Department, and the young filmmakers’ success just exploded. They were everywhere, winning awards and making incredible films. However, teaching film was all-immersive (look, when a student needs a “mom” in the movie, and you’re the oldest gal they know, you get offered a lot of roles!). In that decade, I had become a real mom, and I wanted a job that would allow me to spend time with my new, beautiful daughters. When the position of VPA Coordinator became vacant, I asked Dr. Shelley if she’d consider me for that role.

Chapter 3: VPA Coordinator–Learning to Lead

That was 2012. In the years that followed, I’ve been tasked with leading the VPA and teaching various other classes, predominantly English. Those English classes were a delight–what an honor for me to be able to shape the language and communications skills of so many young people.

In this past decade, the VPA has gone through enormous changes. We’ve developed a website (you’re bearing witness to that right now!). We’ve gone digital with ticketing and auditions/admissions. We’ve done successful fundraisers. We’ve hired numerous wonderful teachers, and we’ve lost other wonderful teachers. We’ve advocated for a new theater building. (Thanks to the tireless efforts of former School Board Chair Caroline Zucker, we won! The theater renovation is well underway.) We’ve triumphed through a pandemic, no easy feat for performing arts in particular. Our programs have evolved to meet the times. We’ve educated and graduated some 2,000 students with their VPA diplomas, and with that arts education, the inspiration, resources, and humanity to make the world a better place.

Chapter 4: The Departure

Now, for me, the detour–that dip into the career of education–is over. I’ve been offered the job of my dreams, as Senior Communications Manager at the Community Foundation of Sarasota County. I can’t think of a better way to marry my skills with my passions. CFSC is a font of support for this community, supporting nearly every aspect of positive change, from assisting nonprofits in their missions to providing scholarships to supporting such game-changing programs as the 2Gen Program and Suncoast Campaign for Grade Level Reading.

Graduation 2022: Assistant Principal Shannon Fleming and I are both leaving Booker High.

I’d like to take the time here to thank all those BHS folks–my family–who believed in me and in all of our students along the way. It truly takes a village to raise the future to be creative, confident, compassionate. My own teachers and now my colleagues are the best village I know. They are a village of heroes.

All the parents, students, and community partners I’ve been able to meet and know have been gifts in my life, and I am grateful.

Chapter 5: The Future

My hope for the VPA is that it continues to thrive, and that the person or people who take on the role of leading it can use vision, expertise, and strategy to usher this very special program forth. Onwards!

Ms. Courtney Smith will take on a leadership role in VPA curriculum beginning in 2022-23. She is actively working to create arts-centered courses within the State of Florida. Her expertise in curriculum and instruction will be shared with the team overall. The search for a person to cover the administrative, managerial and communications elements is on.

For me, then.

Adios.

Arrivederci.

Au revoir.

Auf wiedersehen.

Abrahamson out. A033963 signing off.

But There’s More!

VPA Theatre Announces 2022-23 Season

It’s been a while since we’ve been able to announce future plans–that pandemic took hold of all such notions and hurled them at the construction site of our theater.

But…

…we’ve got a great Theatre season lined up that our students are thrilled about, and we know our audiences will be as well! Here’s announcing the VPA Theatre season for 2022-23! Tickets will go on sale in August here. Get yours early to reserve your seats.

Radium Girls

October 15-16, 2022 | Neel Performing Arts Center

D.W. Gregory’s Radium Girls is an historical drama based on the story of the 1920s female laborers who were poisoned by their factory’s radium-based paint. The play follows three young women, who paint dials at the U.S. Radium Plant and are instructed to pointedly shape their brush bristles with their mouths while painting. The factory’s owner sees radium’s promising future, supported by Marie Curie, the famous scientist, who believes radium could even cure cancer. But soon, the girls begin to notice strange effects; and some more than strange, even fatal. Radium Girls contemplates the profitability of science, the pursuit of wealth, the fierce injustices America workers have faced and the value of a human life.

The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee

December 10-11, 2022 | BHS Gym

A quirky group of kids vie for the spelling bee championship of a lifetime, all while revealing hilarious and endearing stories from their lives. They spell their way through rounds of words, hoping never to hear the ding of the bell that signifies the end of their sleeping bee journey. Six spellers enter, the losers get a juice box and the audience gets to participate too! The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee, with music and lyrics by William Finn and book by Rachel Sheinkin, is comedy genius with no end. 

Tartuffe by Moliere

February 24-25 | SCF Recital Hall

Moliere’s comedy Tartuffe centers around a conning and cunning imposter, Tartuffe, a supposed holy man who has wound Orgon and Orgon’s conservative mother tightly around his finger. But Tartuffe’s antics do not fool the entire household and Orgon’s family go to great lengths to expose the fraud for what he is. When all hope seems lost and the family are at their wits end, a little divine intervention lends a hand. Tartuffe explores the dynamics of the family, logic versus emotion, and the dangers of hypocrisy.

Seussical the Musical

April 29-30 | Neel Auditorium

The Stephen Flaherty and Lynn Ahrens musical takes us into the world of Dr. Seuss, where Horton, a kind-hearted elephant finds a speck of dust containing Whoville. He must protect the speck while at the same time protecting an abandoned egg. Horton tries to convince the other animals in The Jungle of Nool of the existence of the Whos, but he is ridiculed and put on trial. Only his neighbor, Gertrude, never gives up on him. Despite the odds, Horton and Gertrude band together to save the Whos, free Horton, and restore peace and unity. Seussical paints a picture of friendship, loyalty, and love, teaching of the power of being unique, and the importance of fighting for what you believe in.

VPA Season for Dance, Music and More

We are hard at work cementing details for the season for Dance, Music, Film and Art. Stay tuned for those details. Suffice to say, for Music, the theme is “Adventure,” so prepare yourself for a sonic sojourn that will lift your spirits. The Dance concerts, “Let Me Tell You” (fall) and “Echo” (spring) focus on stories and the repetition of life. The theater renovation keeps us off campus another year, but we are working on details of venue. All tickets will be available in August.

Summer Audition Cycle Opening June 1

Late auditions will open June 1 for enrollment in 2022-23. Those eligible to audition are as follows:

  1. Students moving into Sarasota County from elsewhere
  2. Students already residing in, or moving into, the Booker High School zone
  3. Any student not currently enrolled in another Sarasota County school based on residence in another zone

If you know creative youngsters curious about the arts, let them know! The audition website is here. Or call Nancy Wachendorf at (941) 355-2967, ext. 65211, through the end of June.

Creativity in the Time of Covid–May 22, 2022

So Long, Seniors!

This week was all about seniors, with celebrations happening all week leading up to the commencement ceremony on May 21 at Robarts Arena.

Film & Animation Showcase a ‘Reel’ Success

The annual Film & Animation Showcase, “Reel Life,” was played to a packed house on May 17. Audiences clamored to view the creative works of these students in a showcase that offered both live-action and animated shorts.

John Timpe addresses a full house

The event, at Burns Court Cinema, marked a return for many to the old-fashioned buzz surrounding the opening of a new movie. After an emergence of streaming, isolated movie viewing that was only heightened by the pandemic, returning to a shared film experience, viewing the works on “the silver screen,” was exciting. Eat your heart out, Netflix! You’ll never compare to the communion created during a big film event like this one. As a matter of fact, the cinema had to open a second theater for overflow patrons.

Not only was the event well attended with enthusiasm, it also featured a sweet senior sendoff, with a video slideshow of the seniors.

Art Senior Showcase Illustrates Excellence

The VPA Art Class of 2022 opened their exhibit at the Basch Gallery at Ringling College of Art & Design on May 20. It will remain open through June 3.

Works on display were unified by a theme that was each artist’s sustained exploration. For Selby Sniegocki, the work centered on the idea of dreams. With this in mind, her creations combined paint, fabric and wax in intricate collages. The wax veneer made the images themselves feel distant, as if behind glass. Hazy, like an unsettling dream.

Sniegocki said that the process of creating these pieces taught her a lot about herself. Specifically, using a wax overlay forced her to plan to make permanent choices, which defies her penchant for impulse. It was a great lesson in planning and technique that she can carry with her to Savannah College of Art and Design, where she’ll start this fall.

Selby Sniegocki next to her “dream” images.

Overall, the artworks were personal and as unique as the artists themselves.

On each wall hung the work of Ella Swartz, who has been a prolific artist of large pieces this year. With shows at Art Ovation, Pastry Art, and Embracing Our Differences, Swartz has been widely celebrated this year. She will attend Stetson University in the fall.

Silver Cord Ceremony Recognizes Seniors’ Accomplishment

The VPA hosted its annual Silver Cord Ceremony on May 18. In essence, the purpose of the ceremony is to celebrate the accomplishment of finishing the VPA program. Thus, seniors were given gifts and words of praise and wisdom as they embark on their next adventure.

Initially, the ceremony began in 2020 as a result of the pandemic that cancelled everything, including graduation. In response, VPA teachers decided to host their own “mini-graduation” ceremony signifying the end of the artists’ VPA journey. It was held outdoors at the Van Wezel parking lot back then. From the beginning, the ceremony was a hit, so it has become a traditional rite of passage for VPA seniors.

The purpose of the silver cord is signify the VPA completion achievement. As such, it is a part of the graduation regalia seniors cherish. Take a look at some of our amazing seniors leading up to their big day.

…And They’re Off!

The commencement ceremony for the class of 2022 was held at Robarts Arena on May 21. With uplifting and moving speeches by Chloe Sebiro, Giacomo Mutti, and Sofia Espinet-Santiago, the ceremony was full of all the elements that make Booker unique. These include tolerance, dreaming to smash boundaries, and success despite the odds.

Pre-Processional photos of the grads-to-be

Even more Booker-esque were the performances. Abbey Holdway raised the roof with The National Anthem, while our orchestra, directed by Ms. Amanda Nix, performed a quietly intense rendition of “Somewhere” from “West Side Story.” Lending another moving performance was Zephyr, with “In this Hour.”

Orchestra seniors perform “Somewhere”

Once again, Booker High graduates made us all proud with their intellect, talent, and unwavering expression. The world will be made better now that these graduates are entering into it as adults. Parents, once again, thank you for sharing these phenomenal artists with us.

Creativity in the Time of Covid–May 15, 2022

‘Last Rung’ Premieres at Ringling College

The Stephen King Dollar Baby Film ‘The Last Rung’ enjoyed an exclusive premiere at the Larry Thompson Education Center on Ringling’s campus. The audience–limited to cast, crew, and their families–enjoyed the film and Q&A.

The film is the culmination of nearly three years of work, beginning with applying for the Dollar Baby program. King offers rights to a selection of short stories for just $1 to fledgling filmmakers through an application process. Rights were granted on Nov. 13, 2019.

Then film source material, “The Last Rung on the Ladder,” is part of King’s “Nightshift” collection of short stories. The team first had to adapt the narrative story into a screenplay. What followed were months of preparation–and pandemic planning as well–prior to beginning production, which began in March 2021. After shooting all the scenes, student editors worked to piece clips together into a story. Finally, the team refined the video. The result? A spectacular film headed for the festival circuit. Hence, the limited premiere: in order to qualify for film festivals, a film cannot be so widely seen that it’s old news.

Congratulations to all the hands and minds who’ve contributed to this great VPA success. The undertaking of a project with this size and scope is enormous. Of course, the pandemic only complicated matters, with production halted until director Styles Summerlin proposed a COVID bubble plan. This was a work of determination and problem solving beyond the typical film production.

VPA Choir Participates in ‘Tomorrow’s Voices Today’

Each year, Key Chorale professional choir presents “Tomorrow’s Voices Today,” an intergenerational concert of choral works. Halted by Covid in the past two years, the concert is back, and Booker VPA choirs participated. The concert, on May 9, featured the Key Chorale choir along with students from Booker, Riverview, and Sarasota High Schools.

The choirs sang three pieces, and you can find those performances at the links below.

The four choirs and directors.

The event is a wonderful way to unite voices and lift spirits.

Senior Showcases Demonstrate Varied Skills

This week marked the beginning of the VPA Senior Showcases, which are like capstone projects for our grads-to-be. The showcases are an accumulation of skills students learn throughout their tenure in VPA. Accordingly, they take on full production roles, from developing content to marketing to hammering out production logistics.

This week’s showcases began with Theatre’s “TBA,” a performance using text chats as a story structure and heavy on the concept of their own lives being in-progress. With exceptional group performances–Sondheim’s “Putting it Together” and “Cell Block Tango,” which riffed on (VPA Theatre teacher) Smith Jail. At turns hilarious and touching, the showcase exemplified all they have learned. Thanks to our partners at SCF’s Neel Performing Art Center for hosting us with grace and generosity.

“Putting it Together” finale

Then came the Music senior showcase on Friday night at the First Presbyterian Church. Following an hourlong awards ceremony where students received such accolades as “Most Improved Musician” and “Director’s Awards,” the recital featured solo and chamber performances of the students’ choosing.

Finally (for this week), Saturday night was the Dance senior showcase, featuring all-student created choreographies that illustrated their dazzling skills and imaginations.

Next up, we’ll finish the year with the Film & Animation senior showcase, a double feature with the department’s annual showcase, “Reel Life,” at Burns Court Cinema on May 17. After, Art will exhibit their senior works at the Ringling College of Art and Design on May 20.

Sam Mossler Memorial Scholarship Winner Announced

Darwin Rojas was named the second annual Sam Mossler Memorial Scholarship winner at the Theatre senior showcase on May 12. As a recipient, he was given a Dr. Who journal signed by the scholarship committee and will receive a $5,000 check. Rojas will major in Acting at Lynn University.

Darwin Rojas

The Sam Mossler Memorial Scholarship was created by Mossler’s friends and family upon the VPA Theatre alum’s sudden, tragic death in October 2020. In addition to graduating from Booker VPA, Mossler went on to earn an MFA in Acting from Florida State University and spent his life as a working artist in theatre performance and writing.

The winner is announced.

A compassionate and generous soul whose motto was “Keep evolving, please,” Mossler inspired those around him to be their most genuine and creative selves. Known as much for being a font of kindness as creativity, Mossler developed lifelong friendships with a range of people. His death shook the large community that adored him.

The scholarship is open to graduating seniors in VPA Theatre going into the arts, and candidates responded to writing prompts and held interviews with the committee. The committee seeks a combination of talent and Sam-like character traits: kindness, a sense of humor, an appreciation for life.

SMMS website: keepevolvingplease.com

The inaugural Sam Mossler Memorial Scholarship winner was Kaity Cairo, who now studies theatre at the University of California, Los Angeles.

All-VPA Art Show is a Hit

The Art Department hosted an art show on May 13 in the studios on campus. Art in every conceivable medium was on display. The senior show will open on Friday, May 20.

Creativity in the Time of Covid–May 8, 2022

Happy Mother’s Day!

We are grateful to the mothers, parents and guardians who entrust Booker High VPA with the nurturing of their children’s talents. Here’s to an excellent day celebrating the sacrifice, limitless love, and strength mothers provide to the world.

Fantastic Forum Awes Audiences

“A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum” enjoyed a short but electrifying run at the Sarasota Opera House this weekend.

The cast and crew of “Forum”

The musical showcased the physical, farcical talents of the cast, with Judah Woomert demonstrating his boundless capabilities as the lead Pseudolus, who engineers a plot to achieve his own freedom by wooing the girl next door for his master. With fantastical vocal performances and spectacular dance numbers, Forum provided a hilarious escape for all who witnessed it.

Music Recital Captures End-of-Journey Emotion

The VPA Music Department presented a choir and orchestra recital on Friday night at the First Presbyterian Church. The performance was the last all-class recital for seniors before their senior recital on May 13.

Mr. Zickafoose directs the chorus.

As is typical for Music performances, although the focus was only on two instrumental areas–vocals and strings–the range of music was broad. The choirs’ repertoire ranged from Rihanna’s “Stay” to Cole Porter’s “Every Time We Say Goodbye.”

The orchestra performed a beautiful rendition of “Somewhere” from West Side Story, which has enjoyed a revival in popularity since the release of the film in 2021.

Ms. Nix leads her orchestra in a final bow.

The concert culminated, as is tradition, in a performance of “Homeward Bound.” Emotions ran high, with Mr. Zickafoose giving seniors a special graduation trinket: a rainbow infinity symbol. The pendant represents the full circle of VPA concerts for these seniors. Their first concert was “In Living Color.” The final major showcase was “Infinite.”

Dance Show Emphasizes Process

The VPA Dance Department presented “In Progress” on Saturday night. ” Uniquely Courtney Smith, the show’s entire purpose was to illuminate viewers of the process of dancemaking.

Although she is a trained dancer, Ms. Smith is a teacher’s teacher. That is to say, her curriculum covers far beyond the artistry of movement. In fact, she folds mindset, goal-making, and strategies that can be applied to all areas of study.

As evidence of her emphasis on teaching and learning, Ms. Smith designed “In Progress” to showcase just that: progress. Rather than featuring finished works of accomplished choreographers, “In Progress” knitted together student works, demonstrating their learning and fledgling understanding of choreography.

Legacy of Dance: Dancers Learn Valuable Lessons from Alum

Another demonstration of Ms. Courtney Smith’s purposeful teaching this week was a conversation she coordinated between current dancers and alum of the Dance Department.

Dancer Claudia Rightmire shares advice.

Ms. Smith contacted dance graduates from the past decade to Zoom in with her current students. Topics of discussion ranged from navigating dance careers to understanding the value of dance education notwithstanding career goals. Indeed, those dance alum not still dancing shared the valuable skills from dance education they’ve brought into current fields. By contrast, those still dancing offered advice and personal journey stories that could help mentor up-and-coming dancers.

Students absorb each word and invite new insights with thought-provoking questions.

As with all Ms. Smith’s thoughtful activities, this one elicited engagement, sparked interest, and broadened her dancers’ concept of the treasures to be found in their dance education.

Upcoming Event

Reel Life: Annual Film & Animation Showcase

May 17 | 7 p.m. @ Burns Court Cinema

The VPA Film & Animation Annual Showcase will entertain and edify with screen stories that shine a light on life as our students see it. They will also offer a glimpse of the day-to-day process students use to bring their art to life. The showcase is a mix of live-action, animated shorts, and documentary work. This screening opportunity is made possible thanks to The Sarasota Film Society.

Look! Just Ahead! It’s the End of the Year

We’re wrapping up our season with just one last season showcase coming up: “Reel Life,” the Film & Animation showcase May 17. See more here.

Other than that, we’ve reached Senior Showcase season. Here’s what’s on tap:

May 12 @ 7 p.m.

Theatre Senior Showcase | Neel Performing Arts Center at State College of Florida, Bradenton

May 13 @ 7 p.m.

Music Senior Showcase | First Presbyterian Church, Sarasota

May 14 @ 7 p.m.

Dance Senior Showcase | Booker High Cafe, Sarasota

May 17 @ 7 p.m.

Film Senior Showcase (and Annual Showcase)* | Burns Court Cinema, Sarasota

May 18 @ 6:30 p.m.

VPA Silver Cord Ceremony | Booker High School

May 20 @ 7 p.m.

Art Senior Showcase | Ringling College of Art & Design, Sarasota

May 21 @ 3 p.m.

Graduation | Robarts Arena, Sarasota


Creativity in the Time of Covid–May 1, 2022

The Sky’s the Limit: “Infinite” Breaks the Mold

The VPA Music Department’s final music showcase, “Infinite,” served up a seemingly endless array of fantastic music, most playing on the theme of boundlessness. From an energetic orchestral “Star Wars” theme song, to a roof raising version of Lynyrd Skynyrd’s “Freebird,” the show was nonstop awe.

VPA Music co-chair Alex Zickafoose dreamed up “Infinite” starting back in his interview for the position at Booker High School. That was five years ago. Since arriving, he’s infused the Music Department with unique showcases that shatter traditional high school recital norms. His concerts feel like events, free from the clumsy static staging of a typical high school music show.

Larah Pereira contributes strings on a Zephyr song.

With showcases spanning rock, folk, orchestra, jazz, Dixie, symphonic band and more, the VPA Music Department has come to signify endless surprise.

Mr. Zickafoose explains the origins of “Infinite”

“Infinite” is a fine production in this mold. Its three-stage layout rendered transitions seamless. Music flowed from the stage like silk from a magician’s hat. At times, staging allowed music to envelop the audience, with action on the stage and choral backups literally coming from behind the crowd.

The result: a thoroughly engaging and impressive achievement showcasing the infinite talents of our VPA Music students and teachers.

Alex Zickafoose directed “Infinite,” with Lizzi Nehls tech directing.

Keys to Success: Caleb Horner Wins Piano Award

Sophomore Caleb Horner took the top award in the 10th grade division of the Suncoast Music Scholarship competition on April 23. The prize includes a $600 scholarship and an invitation to play at the winner’s recital at First Presbyterian Church on May 14, 2022, at 3 p.m.  It’s a free recital of 8 winners. 

Caleb Horner at the keys.

The Artist Series Concerts of Sarasota and The Sarasota Music Club have supported music education through the Suncoast Music Scholarships since 2016. Booker VPA musicians are often selected as one of the 8 winners in the competition. Past winners include Skyler Miller (2016), James Boorman (2018), and Colin Leonard, Leela Sundaram, and Danae Tran (2021).

Abbey Holdway Performs at Volunteer Event

Theatre senior Abbey Holdway was invited to perform at the SCS Volunteer and Business Partners Appreciation Event on April 27. She sang Whitney Houston’s “The Greatest Love of All” to a spellbound crowd. Among the packed house were principals from all district schools, Superintendent Brennan Asplen, school board members, and other district leadership.

Abbey in her element: at ease belting even the highest notes on the song.

While Abbey wowed with her voice, BHS senior Jenna Logan won the Youth Volunteer of the Year award for the entire district and was recognized at the event.

Senior Jenna Logan, flanked by Superintendent Asplen and Dr. Shelley.

Renovation Update

Here’s a peak inside the progress of the new performing arts center!

Get Ready for “A Comedy Tonight!”

Judah Woomert as Pseudolus (center), works to matchmake Tori Greenlaw (Philia, L) and Owen Demaio (Hero, R)

The musical, a hilarious and spirited tale of a slave’s attempt to win his own freedom by helping his master woo the girl next door, was inspired by farces of the ancient Roman playwright Plautus. It features music and lyrics by the late, great Stephen Sondheim and a book by Burt Shevelove and Larry Gelbart.

“Forum” is VPA Theatre Department chair Sunny Smith’s musical directorial debut at the school. She said one reason the department chose this musical now is as an antidote to the gloom the world has faced in the past few years.

“Ending our year this way, with a great escape, is such a gift for the kids,” Smith said, noting that she performed in the musical as a grad student and enjoyed the reprieve from school pressures.

 “Forum” is the first VPA musical to be performed at the Sarasota Opera House since the new VPA Theatre was completed in the 1990s. Prior to that, the Opera House had been the home of the Booker VPA musicals.

The last time the VPA Theatre Department staged “Forum” was in 1993, featuring Sam Mossler. Mossler died in October 2020; friends and alum of the VPA Theatre program have begun a scholarship fund to preserve his legacy.

Sam Mossler, center, flanked by Darren Ritchie (L) and Adam Ratner (R)

“Forum” will feature music direction by Johnnie Mnich, choreography by Cynthia Ashford, set design by Caleb Carrier, and costumes by Heather Clarke.

Upcoming Events

A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum

May 6-7 | 8 p.m. @ The Sarasota Opera House

Hang on to your tunics! This madcap farcical tale of a slave attempting to win his freedom by helping his master woo the girl next door is a hilarious adventure of epic proportion. Forum is one of Sondheim’s most celebrated and popular musicals, winning several Tony awards and enjoying numerous revivals and screen remakes.

Reel Life: Annual Film & Animation Showcase

May 17 | 7 p.m. @ Burns Court Cinema

The VPA Film & Animation Annual Showcase will entertain and edify with screen stories that shine a light on life as our students see it. They will also offer a glimpse of the day-to-day process students use to bring their art to life. The showcase is a mix of live-action, animated shorts, and documentary work. This screening opportunity is made possible thanks to The Sarasota Film Society.

Creativity in the Time of Covid–April 24, 2022

Animator Selected as Ringling Pre-College Scholarship Recipient

Congratulations to Animation sophomore Delcy Calderon, who was selected to receive a full scholarship to the Ringling College pre-college program. The pre-college program is an intensive 4-week experience. Students stay on the Ringling campus and immerse themselves in their art and college life.

Delcy will study Visual Development/Concept Art. At this point, she plans to pursue this career path to design animated characters and environments. But she is open to `new career paths and feels that the experience of precollege may help shape those plans.

Delcy said she’s excited to spend the four weeks on campus, learning the art she loves so much. Another aspect she looks forward to is meeting artists from around the world. While she’s nervous about embarking on something new, she can’t wait for the term to begin.

This incredible opportunity was made possible through the generosity and vision of Ringling President Dr. Larry Thompson and Kay Ash, the college’s Assistant VP, Administration. This invitation to attend pre-college came as a piece of a larger partnership between Booker VPA and Ringling.

This summer, 15 Film & Animation students will attend a week-long session of post-production sound design with industry insider Nick Palladino. These sessions will take place in the multi-million dollar post-production facility that opened in November 2018.

Additionally, three VPA students will have the opportunity to attend the weeklong Ringling Teen Studio camp. These are all arts education experiences unique to Booker VPA students through our partnership with Ringling College of Art and Design.

VPA Theater Renovation Update

It’s hard to tell from the street, but the Theater renovation is moving along, with a nearly complete gutting of the building now complete, setting the stage for beginning the actual construction of new facilities.

This week, production manager Lizzi Nehls and technical theatre teacher Caleb Carrier toured the construction site. Now we all have a glimpse of what lies behind the visqueen fencing.

The site of the new blackbox theater that will be a second performance space.
The view from the stage looking out into the house.
The “window” depicted here is the former tech booth, with the flanking door frames that were the entrance to the back of the house. The new tech booth will be higher up to accommodate mezzanine seating.
The plywood seen here is the proscenium arch where the main drape hangs. In front is the former apron and orchestra pit.

Upcoming Events

The 2021-22 season is quickly coming to an end! Make sure you get tickets for these special events.

Infinite: Music Showcase

April 29-30 | 7 p.m. @ BHS Campus

In our final music showcase of the season, we take to the skies in INFINITE. Featuring music from Lynyrd Skynyrd, John Williams, along with original compositions, arrangements and songs from Booker VPA Music and Staff. our musical selections will create an aura of the air, the sky, and flight, where you will truly feel infinite.

A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum

May 6-7 | 8 p.m. @ The Sarasota Opera House

Hang on to your tunics! This madcap farcical tale of a slave attempting to win his freedom by helping his master woo the girl next door is a hilarious adventure of epic proportion. Forum is one of Sondheim’s most celebrated and popular musicals, winning several Tony awards and enjoying numerous revivals and screen remakes.

Reel Life: Annual Film & Animation Showcase

May 17 | 7 p.m. @ Burns Court Cinema

The VPA Film & Animation Annual Showcase will entertain and edify with screen stories that shine a light on life as our students see it. They will also offer a glimpse of the day-to-day process students use to bring their art to life. The showcase is a mix of live-action, animated shorts, and documentary work. This screening opportunity is made possible thanks to The Sarasota Film Society.

Creativity in the Time of Covid–April 10, 2022

Zaine Lodhi Wins Big

Wow! VPA Art alum Zaine Lodhi’s meteoric rise to prominence has surpassed another milestone. He was one of seven artists selected to be honored in Hollywood for the Illustrators of the Future award ceremony. The international contest attracts the best fantasy illustrators in the world.

Zaine with his Golden Brush Award.

Zaine’s illustrations for the sci-fi book, “Agatha’s Monsters,” earned him the Golden Brush Award, the top prize of the contest. The award is worth $5,000 and a whole lotta bragging rights. Congratulations to Zaine!

Zaine traveled to Hollywood last week, where he received red-carpet treatment and was celebrated for his outstanding illustrations. Read more about his journey here. To see more of his award-winning artwork, check out his artist website here.

Music Students Witness Grammy-Award Winning Guitarist

Grammy Award winning guitarist Jason Vieaux with VPA Guitar students

The La Musica International Chamber Music Festival is back! With it comes a host of world-class musicians, including Grammy Award-winner classical guitarist Jason Vieaux.

Mr. Thomas Koch’s guitar classes traveled to The Sarasota Opera House on April 8 to observe a rehearsal for Vieaux. It was an opportunity for students to behold mastery of the artform and see where discipline and practice can take a player.

Jason Vieaux

Vieux has an extensive discography and has been celebrated around the world. NPR called him “perhaps the most precise and soulful classical guitarist of his generation.”

VPA Orchestra Student Performs Pre-show for La Musica

Larah with Ms. Nix.

VPA Violinist Larah Pereira was selected to perform a pre-show set for the La Musica concert at The Sarasota Opera House on April 6. She will also perform on April 13 for that concert.

Girrrrl Power: VPA Film Alum Selected for SFF Shorts Showing

Sirens movie poster.

VPA Film alum Hali Gardella (c/o 2007) created a film that was selected to be screened in the “Female-Led Shorts” event for the Sarasota Film Festival.

Hali Gardella at the Sarasota Film Festival

Hali’s film, “Sirens of the Swamp,” is a contemporary satire of Homer’s “The Odyssey.” The film follows two sisters living in a ramshackle cabin in The Everglades. Each time their security cameras broadcast images of unsuspecting passersby (think good ol’ boys out for a fishing trip), they stage an elaborate concert. You guessed it: the sounds of their irresistible harmonies lure the travelers. Upon showing up for the “concert,” they are killed and left to be alligator feed. Meanwhile, the sisters empty their cars and pockets of valuables.

The film was one of six from across the state selected for this important screening. The event celebrates the female experience in narrative film.

VPA Jazz Sweep it up at Solo and Ensemble

Congratulations to the VPA Jazz 1 group and FOURcast jazz combo! Both groups earned Superior rankings at the Jazz Solo and Ensemble MPA. Ms. Ellen Saxton directs Jazz 1 (the beginning jazz group), and Mr. Tim Eaton directs FOURcast.

A Superior rating is the highest achievement a performance group can earn, and this year has been more difficult than most. The pandemic presented many challenges for band performance classes–online instruction is nearly impossible, and the aerosols ejected through brass instruments posed dangers. Band programs generally declined in virtuosity. These awards signal enormous effort and a move in the right direction.

Upcoming Events

Infinite: Music Showcase

April 29-30 | 7 p.m. @ BHS Campus

In our final music showcase of the season, we take to the skies in INFINITE. Featuring music from Lynyrd Skynyrd, John Williams, along with original compositions, arrangements and songs from Booker VPA Music and Staff. our musical selections will create an aura of the air, the sky, and flight, where you will truly feel infinite.

A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum

May 6-7 | 8 p.m. @ The Sarasota Opera House

Hang on to your tunics! This madcap farcical tale of a slave attempting to win his freedom by helping his master woo the girl next door is a hilarious adventure of epic proportion. Forum is one of Sondheim’s most celebrated and popular musicals, winning several Tony awards and enjoying numerous revivals and screen remakes.

Reel Life: Annual Film & Animation Showcase

May 17 | 7 p.m. @ Burns Court Cinema

The VPA Film & Animation Annual Showcase will entertain and edify with screen stories that shine a light on life as our students see it. They will also offer a glimpse of the day-to-day process students use to bring their art to life. The showcase is a mix of live-action, animated shorts, and documentary work. This screening opportunity is made possible thanks to The Sarasota Film Society.

Creativity in the Time of Covid–April 3, 2022

Fools RULE!

Discipline sadly hijacked by a selfie-obsessed ballerina.

The Spring Dance concert, “Fool*ish,” offered plenty of frolicsome joy for all. From laugh-out-loud pieces about the tomfoolery of smart phones to sweet and silly adaptations of children’s books, the show had something for everyone. Audience members were invited to explore their own tendencies of foolishness.

The show featured choreography by professionals Courtney Smith Inzalaco, Jenna Outerbridge, Kris Tetris Powell, Kabrena Williams, Cherie Prescod. It also included work from student choreographers Millie Menke, Meghan Keim and blank.

Music performances from Zephyr, The Cyclone, and Jet Stream punctuated the show, which was played to a packed house.

VPA Film Selected for SFF’s Young Filmmakers Showcase

A still from the nail-biter “Two Shot Trial”

A VPA Film & Animation live-action short, “Two Shot Trial,” has been accepted into the Sarasota Film Festival’s Hollywood Nights High School Film Showcase. The screening will start at 5:30 p.m. on April 3 at the Municipal Auditorium.

The film, directed by Milania McNair, tells the story of an orphaned child raised by her mob boss uncle. Once the woman starts a relationship with an undercover government agent, she must decide what loyalty means. Screenwriters include Toby Jaffee and Marlow Seah. Mia Dickey, Ayanna Dudley, and Mikey Morehouse also crewed the production.

Get your tickets here.

Sam Mossler Memorial Scholarship Deadline Extended

Nobody had fun during this visit. Promise!

VPA Theatre alum Adam Ratner visited the Theatre class of 2022 on Friday to encourage students to apply for the Sam Mossler Memorial Scholarship. This scholarship was created as a legacy project for Mossler, VPA Theatre alum (c/o ’93), who died suddenly in October 2020.

During the visit, Ratner shared stories of his decades-long friendship with Mossler. Along with that, he extolled Mossler’s humanity and generosity as an artist and creator, which is the underlying purpose of the scholarship: to support young people’s creative endeavors in the service of enhancing society.

The SMMS is open to all graduating Theatre seniors and is worth $5,000, and the deadline has been extended to April 8. Interested students can apply here. The winner will be announced publicly at the Theatre Senior Showcase on May 12 at the Neel PAC on SCF’s campus.

VPA Theatre Alum Makes Headlines with New Play

Mona Pirnot

Booker VPA Theatre Alum Mona Pirnot is in The Washington Post for her new play, “Private,” which examines the value of privacy in an age of revealing all. In addition to being a celebrated playwright, Pirnot is an award-winning actress.

Read all about her writing talent vis a vis her prescient sci-fi play here.

Infinite: Music Showcase

April 29-30 | 7 p.m. @ BHS Campus

In our final music showcase of the season, we take to the skies in INFINITE. Featuring music from Lynyrd Skynyrd, John Williams, along with original compositions, arrangements and songs from Booker VPA Music and Staff. our musical selections will create an aura of the air, the sky, and flight, where you will truly feel infinite.

A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum

May 6-7 | 8 p.m. @ The Sarasota Opera House

Hang on to your tunics! This madcap farcical tale of a slave attempting to win his freedom by helping his master woo the girl next door is a hilarious adventure of epic proportion. Forum is one of Sondheim’s most celebrated and popular musicals, winning several Tony awards and enjoying numerous revivals and screen remakes.

Reel Life: Annual Film & Animation Showcase

May 17 | 7 p.m. @ Burns Court Cinema

The VPA Film & Animation Annual Showcase will entertain and edify with screen stories that shine a light on life as our students see it. They will also offer a glimpse of the day-to-day process students use to bring their art to life. The showcase is a mix of live-action, animated shorts, and documentary work. This screening opportunity is made possible thanks to The Sarasota Film Society.

Creativity in the Time of Covid–Mar. 27, 2022

Encore! Booker VPA Artists at Art Ovation Hotel

Ella Swartz in front of large character studies: “I don’t even think about what I’m doing, It just happens,” she said.

Booker VPA has enjoyed a fruitful relationship with the Art Ovation Hotel downtown. This year’s partnering was kicked off this week with VPA Artists Ella Swartz and Jinx Molina exhibiting artworks in the lobby.

Jinx Molina shares this artwork depicting the agony of being tethered to something undesirable.

Swartz and Molina are the featured artists in residence, which means they are artmaking as a public attraction. As artists in residence, they engage with hotel patrons, discuss their processes, sell artworks, and more.

Both artists have described the experience as transformative. For Swartz, who is negotiating a price on two of her paintings, it’s been a deep dive into the life of a pro. It’s been a foray into sales and value, self-promotion and more.

Molina said they would never have been able to attempt anything like this as a freshman. Their work is deeply personal–“all great art comes from tragedy,” they said. Their personality, shy. Showing up this way is a major feat and one that will likely never be forgotten.

Not only was it great to see them in this role, but the night I went, Booker VPA alum Hayden Richau was entertaining guests in the lobby, where he sang and played piano.

Hayden Richau, VPA Music graduate and Art Ovation Hotel performer

Renovation Update

It doesn’t look like much from the outside, but the VPA Theater renovation project is progressing nicely. If you’ve driven by, seen that visqueen fencing, and wondered what lies beyond the facade, here’s your chance to get a sneak peek.

Some plumbing foundation has been installed and tested. These pictures also illustrate how the raked house floor has been flattened. Now, those who’ve enjoyed performances here can recognize the house only by the brick walls.

VPA Music Students Perform at Holocaust Remembrance Event

The group singing before a packed house; the performance is available on METV.

VPA Music students were invited to perform at “My Grandfather Would Have Shot Me: A Conversation with Jennifer Teege” on March 23 at Temple Beth Sholom. The Boxser Diversity Initiative sponsored the event, which was an interactive conversation with the author.

The quintet: Sinta Suarnawa, Genesis Gutierrez, Bea De Freitas, Bella Alberti, Marissa Barnes.

“My Grandfather Would Have Shot Me,” an international bestseller, is a book born of a shocking discovery: At age 38, Teege learned that her grandfather had been a Nazi commander.

The students sang the spiritual “Nobody Knows the Trouble I’ve Seen.”

That’s a Wrap! VPA Film and Theater Collaboration Projects ‘In the Can’

Ryan Modjeski is ready for his closeup.

VPA Film and Theatre students completed their joint project this week with raves from the students and plans from the teachers to continue this in years to come.

The crew directs Claire Bailey.

The goal was to give Film students an opportunity to direct actors so that they could apply theoretical lessons derived from the greats Sidney Lumet and Judith Westin. Additionally, the students learned together differences between acting on stage and for the screen.

The teams spent seven periods over the course of about a month working together. The classes culminated in filmed scenes from “Spanglish” and “Being the Ricardos.”

Sunny Smith and John Timpe developed and led the project.

VPA Artist at Pastry Art

Unexpected: Swartz combines iconic cartoons with street graffiti to produce a startling response.

Look, Ella Swartz is unstoppable, and she has an entire exhibit up at Pastry Art downtown. The collection features Swartz’s text-heavy works that offer incendiary social commentary.

Next time you’re on Main Street, dash in to locally owned Pastry Art for a beautiful cup o’ joe and take in Swartz’s work while sipping.

Upcoming Events

Fool*ish

Apr. 1-2 | 7 p.m. @ Booker High School

The line between reality and fiction is blurred in this dance show that explores our tendency to fool others as well as ourselves. Examining deception and awakening, the masks and the revelations, Fool*ish features pieces in modern, ballet, hip hop, African and Latin dance genres.

Infinite: Music Showcase

April 29-30 | 7 p.m. @ BHS Campus

In our final music showcase of the season, we take to the skies in INFINITE. Featuring music from Lynyrd Skynyrd, John Williams, along with original compositions, arrangements and songs from Booker VPA Music and Staff. our musical selections will create an aura of the air, the sky, and flight, where you will truly feel infinite.

A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum

May 6-7 | 8 p.m. @ The Sarasota Opera House

Hang on to your tunics! This madcap farcical tale of a slave attempting to win his freedom by helping his master woo the girl next door is a hilarious adventure of epic proportion. Forum is one of Sondheim’s most celebrated and popular musicals, winning several Tony awards and enjoying numerous revivals and screen remakes.

Reel Life: Annual Film & Animation Showcase

May 17 | 7 p.m. @ Burns Court Cinema

The VPA Film & Animation Annual Showcase will entertain and edify with screen stories that shine a light on life as our students see it. They will also offer a glimpse of the day-to-day process students use to bring their art to life. The showcase is a mix of live-action, animated shorts, and documentary work. This screening opportunity is made possible thanks to The Sarasota Film Society.

Creativity in the Time of Covid–Mar. 13, 2022

Yassss, Yissy!

Cuban percussion jazz artist Yissy Garcia heated up the school week for our VPA Music students. First in a masterclass on Mar. 9, Yissy and her band performed and shared the stories of their journey.

Their jams were astonishing–at once precise and also exuberant–and the students soaked it all in, participating through clapping and dancing.

It was an exchange that underscored the importance of being open to opportunity. Most of the band had traveled around the world to seize opportunities to refine their musical mastery.

On Mar. 10, about 100 students traveled to the Historic Asolo Theatre, where they were treated to a full concert in that elegant hall, and then had the chance to wander the Ringling Museum grounds.

All jazzed up! VPA Music students after the performance at The Ringling.

The Ringling provided access to this incredible and inspiring experience.

VPA Art Alum Earns International Illustration Award

Zaine Lodhi

VPA Art alum Zaine Lodhi (’18) has won the “The Illustrators of the Future Award” and will be honored in Hollywood on April 8. He is one of 12 artists globally to win this award this year.  Zaine currently majors in Illustration at Ringling College.

That’s one way to capitulate! One of Lodhi’s winning pieces.

In addition to being honored with the award, he’ll attend a week-long professional workshop with some of the top names in the industry and his art will be published in the anthology, L. Ron Hubbard Presents Writers of the Future Volume 38.

You can almost smell the mead and mutton. This dining hall picture is another of his winning illustrations.

The contest, now in its 34th year, recognizes illustrators and writers. Along with the awards the contests gives, its purpose is to support new generations of sci-fi content creators.

Nobody would want to find this creature lurking in the depths: Lodhi’s mythical lizard beast is the third of his winning illustrations.

Now a senior at Ringling College, Zaine hopes to pursue a career in illustration for the video game industry. He already works for a company creating 3-D assets for video games. He created all these pieces using Adobe Illustrator. Click here for more information about this contest.

Upcoming Events

Fool*ish

Apr. 1-2 | 7 p.m. @ Booker High School

The line between reality and fiction is blurred in this dance show that explores our tendency to fool others as well as ourselves. Examining deception and awakening, the masks and the revelations, Fool*ish features pieces in modern, ballet, hip hop, African and Latin dance genres.

Infinite: Music Showcase

April 29-30 | 7 p.m. @ BHS Campus

In our final music showcase of the season, we take to the skies in INFINITE. Featuring music from Lynyrd Skynyrd, John Williams, along with original compositions, arrangements and songs from Booker VPA Music and Staff. our musical selections will create an aura of the air, the sky, and flight, where you will truly feel infinite.

A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum

May 6-7 | 8 p.m. @ The Sarasota Opera House

Hang on to your tunics! This madcap farcical tale of a slave attempting to win his freedom by helping his master woo the girl next door is a hilarious adventure of epic proportion. Forum is one of Sondheim’s most celebrated and popular musicals, winning several Tony awards and enjoying numerous revivals and screen remakes.