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–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–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.

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

At Last! Death By Chocolate Delivers

The wildly popular Death By Chocolate was a hit again this year. With a theme of time–fleeting and everchanging–Death By Chocolate: In This Hour offered plenty of sweetness. Here’s a look:

The Arts as Impact

The BHS Student Government Association presented “Culture Day” on Feb. 25 during both lunches. The presentation included singing, dancing, art, and poetry celebrating Black culture.

It was an uplifting event that reminded all of the power of the arts to stimulate connection and honor identity.

VPA Art Pays Homage to Kara Walker

You saw it featured in the above slideshow–what better way to showcase Black achievement in art than to reference one of America’s most celebrated Black artists? Level 1 VPA artists painted a chalk mural featuring the colors of the African diaspora along with Walker-esque silhouettes.

The process was a lesson in problem-solving: first, the artists photographed Black people of the BHS community. Next, they had stencils cut (thanks to ____ and the Engineering class!). Finally, after painting the colors, students worked together to paint the stenciled figures.

One of the pieces from Kara Walker’s new show, titled “Slaughter of the Innocents (They Might Be Guilty of Something).”
( Kara Walker, courtesy of Sikkema Jenkins & Co., New York )

From Stage to Screen: Film and Theatre Collaboration in the Works

Film and Theatre students began a collaboration this week that will help both groups of students with vital skills. The project, directing actors for film, gives film students an opportunity to guide performances. This gives them insight into how to offer constructive feedback, while for actors, it opens doors to a new venue. For these students who are accustomed to the stage, playing for a camera that’s a few feet away is a new experience. Furthermore, the proximity of lights, mics and film artists is a great way to deliver them from their comfort zones.

Mr. Timpe and Ms. Smith, who are leading the collaboration, have been thrilled already at the outcome and look forward to creating new connective, impactful experiences for their students.

Special Guest in Film & Animation

Levi Hernandez brought in a special guest for drawing day in Ms. Burton’s Level 1 Film & Animation classes Friday. Stan just may be the first Bearded Dragon to visit the Film studios.

Upcoming Events

A Midsummer Night’s Dream by William Shakespeare

Mar. 3-5 | 7 p.m. and Mar. 6 | 2 p.m. @ The Civic Green

Presented in partnership with The Bay Park Conservancy, this Shakespeare in the Park presentation of one of the bard’s most popular plays is sure to please. Exploring love in all its facets, the play is a comical look at the nature of attraction.

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.

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.

Creativity in the Time of Covid–Feb. 20, 2022

VPA Art Student Earns Top Mark on AICE Portfolio

Alanna Hutton in her work cube in Mr. Strenk’s studio. Zoom in to see the incredible detail of these images behind her.

Congratulations to VPA Art junior Alanna Hutton, whose portfolio earned Cambridge International Scholar “Top in the World” award for having scored the best out of all candidates submitting a portfolio in Summer 2021. Hutton worked under the supervision of Ms. Cathie Janssen to complete the 2-D portfolio.

One of Hutton’s paintings from the AICE 2-D portfolio.

“Top in the World” awards are highly prestigious and rare. The last “Top in the World” award-winner at Booker High School was Isabelle Stark for her work in General Paper in the 2018 series.

Multicultural Collab Demonstrates Power of Percussion

Poetry in Motion: Wilson demonstrates a beat for the students to replicate.

Nobody in the Band Room Feb. 14 could resist the allure of the beat when the artist Wilson led a Brazilian percussion workshop. Teacher of the Year Loridia Urquiza brought Wilson to the school to expose students to the intoxicating tradition of Brazilian percussion.

Pulsating rhythms set the perfect backdrop for dance demos.

Urquiza collaborated with Ms. Ellen Saxton to expand the impact of this (literally) moving workshop, where all students were given sticks to create Samba beats in unison. Chairs became drum sets as students brought rhythms to life, with dance students demonstrating the traditional Latin dance.

Samba is an artform brought to Brazil from Africa in the 19th century. Because of its roots in Black culture, Samba was criminalized for many years. Now it is known as an icon of Brazilian national identity.

Without a doubt, the workshop engaged and delighted. Thanks so much to Ms. Urquiza and Mr. Saxton for hosting. And of course, thanks to Wilson and Prof. Diego Villada for presenting the cultural workshop that began the week with a beat.

Ellen Saxton, Wilson, Loridia Urquiza, New College’s Prof. Diego Villada, and Dr. Shelley

Booker Band Earns Excellent at MPA

Ms. Saxton conducts the jazz band at the MPAs.

The Booker VPA Jazz Ensemble earned an Excellent rating at the district Music Performance Assessment on Feb. 17. While the rating is not the highest achievement at MPA, it comes after some challenges within the band and its leadership.

Recently, Band Director Ellen Saxton as well as some players have been out due to pandemic, and a last-minute injury to a saxophonist meant a day-of substitution. Due to unavoidable absences, the moment of truth was intimidating. Yet, even with less-than-perfect rehearsal conditions, the band pulled through.

Referendum Vote Just Around the Corner

Sarasota County Schools prides itself on being one of the best districts in the state, with robust programs, generous student support, and state-of-the-art learning facilities. Some of this is made possible through the 1 mill tax referendum that goes to support public and charter schools.

The referendum is up for renewal on March 8. Be sure to vote. To learn more about the ways the 1 mill property tax funds school activities county-wide, click here. At Booker High School specifically, here’s what the referendum supports.

Lady Tornadoes Head to Final Four!

The Booker High School Lady Tornadoes defeated Port Charlotte, winning the Class 4A Region 3 Regional finals on Feb. 18. Next, the basketball team will head to the Final Four Regional Finals.

What’s this got to do with VPA? Why, the pep rally, of course! The Whirlwind Brigade Marching Band and Color Guard feted the team at a brief rally. Interestingly, both groups are full of VPA students. So, enjoy a few photos from Friday’s festivities.

Upcoming Events

Death By Chocolate: In This Hour

Feb. 25-26 | 7 p.m. and Feb. 26 | 2 p.m.

The most decadent VPA event of the year, Death By Chocolate is a feast for all senses. Patrons can listen to fabulous music while indulging in chocolate, cocoa and coffee. This year’s theme, time, offers exploration into its mysteries, with songs about eternity, repetition, tedium, anticipation, and more.

A Midsummer Night’s Dream by William Shakespeare

Mar. 3-5 | 7 p.m. and Mar. 6 | 2 p.m. @ The Civic Green

Presented in partnership with The Bay Park Conservancy, this Shakespeare in the Park presentation of one of the bard’s most popular plays is sure to please. Exploring love in all its facets, the play is a comical look at the nature of attraction.

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.

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.

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

Ringling College of Art and Design Deepens Partnership with VPA

Ringling College of Art and Design will offer a captivating summer workshop in sound design and engineering to students enrolled in the Booker High School Visual and Performing Arts (VPA) Film & Animation Department.

Proud Principal Dr. Rachel Shelley and Ringling President Dr. Larry Thompson seal the deal.

The workshop, designed exclusively for Booker VPA students, will cover the art of sound in live action and animated films. It will utilize state-of-the-art post-production equipment at Ringling College Studio Labs’ Soundstage and Post-Production Facilities. Exploration of the aural world of film will open new avenues for students pursuing higher education or careers in the field.

The program will start Summer 2022 with the expectation of continuing in perpetuity. The College is offering this unique opportunity free of charge to Booker students.

Booker Principal Dr. Rachel Shelley noted that the sessions will open new doors for students.

“This fully aligns with Booker’s mission of college and career readiness, giving students more options for pursuing their dreams. We couldn’t be more grateful for our partners at Ringling College,” Dr. Shelley said.

Ringling College of Art and Design President Dr. Larry Thompson said he’s excited to introduce the young cohort to the realm of sound design and engineering.

“Many high school students go through their entire educational experience without any exposure to the abundance of opportunities in creative careers. We feel so fortunate at Ringling College to have such incredible facilities in which we can help inspire the next generations of creative storytellers, and to continue to further enhance our close relationship with Booker High,” he said.

The sound design program will take place over two one-week sessions in June. It will admit up to 15 Film & Animation students.

Other Ringling Opportunities Open to BHS VPA Students

Along with the workshops, the College is also gifting Booker VPA students with scholarship opportunities, such as underwriting five Summer Teen Studio tuition fees, as well as one scholarship covering all Ringling PreCollege fees. These will be open for students interested in any of Ringling College’s 13 majors, from Film to Fine Arts to the Business of Art and Design.

The arrangement is made possible through the generosity of Ringling College of Art and Design and further signals an even greater level of commitment in the longstanding relationship the two art schools have shared.

Powerhouse Paula Vogel Puts ‘Pen to Paper’

Hermitage CEO Andy Sandberg facilitates a Q&A, calling for Booker VPA students’ questions FIRST! 🙂

Wow! Anyone in the boundless presence of Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Paula Vogel during her “Pen to Paper” event may still feel the life force coursing through them. The workshop was like being plunged into a pool of writing wisdom.

Vogel is one of the most celebrated playwrights alive, having won nearly every award available to theatre writers, including the Tony award for “Indecent,” the Pulitzer Prize for “How I Learned to Drive,” and induction into the American Theatre Hall of Fame.

Yet you’d never guess it from her disarming demeanor and profound generosity. The workshop was equal parts writing guru’s gifts, life lessons, and bountiful encouragement.

Theatre students Jackson Carney, Ashley Rosas-Rios, Kylee Worth and Alanna Bray pose with Vogel post-workshop. This moment comes after she tells them she’s heard from those in the audience that Booker VPA Theatre productions are the best in town, better than local theatres. After sharing that praise, she advises that there is plenty of money to be made in the arts, so, she says, “follow your dreams.”

Vogel offered generous advice on writing during her workshop. The workshop, brought to Booker through the Hermitage Artist Retreat, was a crash course on all things storytelling: character, plot, and spectacle were just a few elements she elaborated on.

Then came the challenge: a John Ringling “Bake-Off.” What’s a bake-off? Just like ones involving food, literary bake-offs involve taking prescribed ingredients and creating literature. In the case of this one, the ingredients are circus objects and people and dates important to circus magnate John Ringling’s life. Take all these, write for 48 hours, and then stop. Vogel said, “it doesn’t matter if you’re in the middle of a sentence. Just stop.”

Other than the challenge of writing the piece, Vogel offered empowering encouragement about life: “I celebrate your writing, I celebrate your lives, I celebrate your loves,” she offered through tears at the close of the workshop.

The message of the night was “everyone can write,” and how deeply moving for our Booker students to hear that from a living legend of the theatre. Her generosity, spirit and wit were gifts to all who were there.

Vogel and Theatre Chair Sunny Smith.

Student Wins Superior at Solo and Ensemble

Rutland performing Solo and Ensemble at Braden River High School on Feb. 12.

Congratulations to sophomore Dante Rutland for earning a Superior rating at the Florida Bandmasters Association Solo and Ensemble Festival for District 11. He earned the award and high praise from the judges for his work on the marimba.

Next up for Rutland: moving on to State Solo and Ensemble Festival in March.

Auditions for Upcoming Events Underway

Musicians Vie for Sweet Solos

While Death By Chocolate will follow its format of featuring ensembles like the orchestra and bands, the concert will also showcase soloists and duets. That said, musicians auditioned this week for those coveted pieces, and the results are in!

  • Emcees: Yoshi Wilson and Bea Defrietas
  • Piano soloists: Danae Tran, Cristobal Luguardo, Chelsie Louis, Tristan Tran
  • Vocal Solo: Julia Stover (accompanied by Mackenzie Lopatinski
  • Vocal Duet: Marissa Barnes and Bella Alberti
  • Marimba Solo: Dante Rutland
  • Plus, a small group comprising Anna Alarcon, Gus Baizabal, Edna Hernandez, Cristobal Luguardo, Danae Tran and Tristan Tran

Tickets for this exciting and indulgent event are on sale–get yours TODAY.

Theatre Students Get Farcically Physical for “A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum” Auditions

Meanwhile, Theatre students spent the week singing their hearts out and learning dance choreography to “Comedy Tonight” for the upcoming production of “A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum,” coming up on May 6-7 at the Sarasota Opera House.

For this production, the cast list will be posted early this week, and tickets will go on sale once it’s posted.

Upcoming Events

Death By Chocolate: In This Hour

Feb. 25-26 | 7 p.m. and Feb. 26 | 2 p.m.

The most decadent VPA event of the year, Death By Chocolate is a feast for all senses. Patrons can listen to fabulous music while indulging in chocolate, cocoa and coffee. This year’s theme, time, offers exploration into its mysteries, with songs about eternity, repetition, tedium, anticipation, and more.

A Midsummer Night’s Dream by William Shakespeare

Mar. 3-5 | 7 p.m. and Mar. 6 | 2 p.m.

Presented in partnership with The Bay Park Conservancy, this Shakespeare in the Park presentation of one of the bard’s most popular plays is sure to please. Exploring love in all its facets, the play is a comical look at the nature of attraction.

Creativity in the Time of Covid–Feb. 6, 2022

Animation Student Earns Regional Scholastic Art and Writing Awards

Congratulations to Animation senior Alaya Knowlton for her recognition in the Scholastic Art and Writing Awards regional contest. Knowlton won the following awards:

  • Gold Key award, American Visions nomination for her animated short, “Adrift”
  • Gold Key award for her digital artwork, “Her Quintessence”
  • Silver Key awards for three additional artworks, “A Broken Bard,” “Hidden in the Darkness,” “Mindfulness”
  • Silver Key award for her art portfolio “Unravel.”
Poster for Gold Key award-winning “Adrift”

Founded in 1923, the Scholastic Art and Writing Awards has in its nearly century-long existence has celebrated excellence in the arts. The organization has recognized some of the most celebrated artists and writers in modern American history. Some notable Scholastic alum include writers Sylvia Plath and Stephen King, actors John Lithgow and Alan Arkin, and artists Cy Twombly and Red Grooms.

Gold Key award-winner “Her Quintessence”

“Adrift” now goes on for consideration of a national Scholastic Award. The film was also selected to be screened in the 2021 Sarasota Film Festival’s Young Filmmakers Showcase.

New College Presents Stage Combat Workshop

You don’t see this every day: Prof. Villada demonstrates a combat move with student Pluto while Dr. Bill Woodson looks on.

New College Professor Diego Villada presented an interactive workshop on the art of stage combat on Jan. 31. The class, offered to Dance, Film & Animation, and Theatre students, gave VPA students insight on how to “pack a punch” when it comes to performing or directing fight scenes. Villada and his student Pluto demonstrated fight sequences that students were then able to practice.

Dance students Christian Hall and Maija Boelkins try their hands at the move.

The session also informed students about the many opportunities available to them at New College, which is the state’s Honors College. Booker High School and New College have a long-standing relationship that allows access for BHS students to college admissions. As Dr. Bill Woodson, Dean of Outreach, said, “We’ve seen the pipeline from Booker to New College increase from a trickle to a steady flow this past year, but I would love to see it turn into a torrent!”

Families wanting to learn about the myriad opportunities at New College, from performing arts to public policy, should check out the school’s degree programs here.

Theatre Students Shine at Access Broadway

Theatre seniors Anthony Lobo, Liam McGuire, and Abbey Holdway all earned major recognition for their performances.

VPA Theatre students enrolled in Spotlight Theater Productions performed at Access Broadway Orlando this weekend, where they earned numerous accolades, including Best Musical Theater Production for their performance of “Children of Eden.” The performance recently earned the top honor at the Junior Theater Festival, an international competition held in January in Atlanta, Ga.

The cast of the platinum-winning group number “Hogwarts.”

Access Broadway is a regional performance competition that travels nationwide, allowing Broadway hopefuls the chance to perform before industry professionals. There are numerous categories, from solo songs to group numbers to ensemble dance. Several VPA Theatre students presented dozens of pieces, many earning platinum individual awards and also recognition overall.

Spotlight Theater Productions is owned and operated by Ms. Cynthia Ashford, our VPA Theatre Dance teacher.

Upcoming Events

‘Pen to Paper’: A Masterclass with Paula Vogel

Feb. 11 | 5 p.m.

Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Paula Vogel will present a masterclass and work with participants to write a play. This opportunity is presented by the Hermitage Artist Retreat.

Death By Chocolate: In This Hour

Feb. 25-26 | 7 p.m. and Feb. 26 | 2 p.m.

The most decadent VPA event of the year, Death By Chocolate is a feast for all senses. Patrons can listen to fabulous music while indulging in chocolate, cocoa and coffee. This year’s theme, time, offers exploration into its mysteries, with songs about eternity, repetition, tedium, anticipation, and more.

A Midsummer Night’s Dream by William Shakespeare

Mar. 3-5 | 7 p.m. and Mar. 6 | 2 p.m.

Presented in partnership with The Bay Park Conservancy, this Shakespeare in the Park presentation of one of the bard’s most popular plays is sure to please. Exploring love in all its facets, the play is a comical look at the nature of attraction.

Creativity in the Time of Covid–Jan. 30, 2022

I-CONNICK! VPA Students Learn from an Icon

Harry Connick, Jr.

Students were given an opportunity of a lifetime on Thursday when they enjoyed an unscripted masterclass with jazz legend and sensation of stage and screen Harry Connick, Jr. The event was made possible through the generosity of the Van Wezel Foundation and its passionate donors.

Students pose with the master of New Orleans jazz.

During the conversation, the Emmy and Grammy-award-winning Connick shared stories of his life and roots in New Orleans, his early years and his family now. Instilling in our teens the importance of family, Connick described that his marriage and family are what grant him the chance to “fly.”

Preparing to enter the signature purple Van Wezel. Connick quipped about the building’s hue during his performance that night.

He also dispensed words of encouragement, inspiring students that they have “something special that no one else has.” He instructed them to dig deep and develop their own voice. That, he ensured, will help them make their mark on the world.

Connick advised that hard work is the name of the game. A student asked how he fell into acting, and he assured them he did not “fall into” that field, but worked hard to enter it. “Entertainment is no joke,” he said, noting that tenacity, hard work, commitment to rehearsing, and living with rejection are all a part of this career choice.

The conversation was one to remember, with Connick graciously responding to questions ranging from the personal to the professional. He took song requests and played, no mic, mask and tennis shoes on, reminding us of the humanity that connects us.

The Van Wezel Foundation also underwrote tickets for students to attend the Harry Connick, Jr., concert Thursday evening. It was a sizzling performance they will not likely forget. During the sold-out performance, Connick recounted the conversation, telling the audience of his afternoon with Booker VPA students.

VPA Dance Performs at Ringling Museum

The performance, bathed in sunlight, connected past with present, ending with hope.

VPA Dancers performed at Ringling Museum on Jan. 24 as the capstone of an ongoing project dancers have undertaken since September this year. They worked with Canadian artist Rhodnie Desir throughout first semester on a project inspired by her Bow’t Trail work.

The divine Devon Saxman flanked by dancers during a rehearsal.

The Bow’t Trail is Desir’s signature, groundbreaking work that uses interviews to capture personal histories to inspire choreography meant to connect the present with the past.

Movement at moments was reminiscent of walls and barriers.

Students collaborated with the artist, learning her techniques to conduct their own interviews of history-keepers in Sarasota, including descendants of slaves. The resulting choreography powerfully conveyed a history of oppression and brutality with the present of connection and uplift.

The beautiful dancers between rehearsals.

Dr. Lisa Merritt, executive director of the Multicultural Health Institute, introduced the dancers.

On the Road: VPA Visits Middle Schools

This was a busy week for VPA teachers, who visited middle schools in advance of the live auditions on Saturday, Jan. 29, to inform students and teachers about the program and process.

Mr. Strenk shows projects from current students.
Ms. Burton shares animation work with Booker Middle students.

Music, Art, Film and Animation teachers visited Booker Middle School, and Ms. Abrahamson visited Art and Digital Design classes at SSA+S.

It was a great leadup to Saturday’s audition, where hopefuls came in to demonstrate their talent and readiness for the VPA program. Thanks to all who came out!

Upcoming Events

SPIN: Booker’s Student-Parent Information Night

Feb. 3 | 5:30 p.m.

Come out to learn about all the amazing opportunities available for you at Booker High School! Meet teachers, take tours, witness performances, check out our special programs. The event is free and open to the public!

‘Pen to Paper’: A Masterclass with Paula Vogel

Feb. 11 | 5 p.m.

Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Paula Vogel will present a masterclass and work with participants to write a play. This opportunity is presented by the Hermitage Artist Retreat.

Death By Chocolate: In This Hour

Feb. 25-26 | 7 p.m. and Feb. 26 | 2 p.m.

The most decadent VPA event of the year, Death By Chocolate is a feast for all senses. Patrons can listen to fabulous music while indulging in chocolate, cocoa and coffee. This year’s theme, time, offers exploration into its mysteries, with songs about eternity, repetition, tedium, anticipation, and more.

A Midsummer Night’s Dream by William Shakespeare

Mar. 3-5 | 7 p.m. and Mar. 6 | 2 p.m.

Presented in partnership with The Bay Park Conservancy, this Shakespeare in the Park presentation of one of the bard’s most popular plays is sure to please. Exploring love in all its facets, the play is a comical look at the nature of attraction.