Creativity in the Time of Covid-Feb. 7, 2021

We are so fortunate in our nation to have a diversity of artists and voices that have advanced progress in our culture, understanding of humanity, aesthetics, and civilization. As we observe Black History Month, the VPA salutes Black artists and honors their contributions to society and the arts.

In our classrooms, we are diving into activities that explore and appreciate Black artists. Look out for some performances coming soon as well. 

Theatre celebrates with “Jelly’s Last Jam”

Jelly’s Last Jam tells the unbelievable story of Jelly Roll Morton.

This week, the Theatre Department is exploring “Jelly’s Last Jam,” the Tony-award winning biographical musical of Jelly Roll Morton, jazz music’s first arranger. The Broadway musical featured choreography by Hope Clarke, Broadway’s first Black female choreographer, and was directed by George C. Wolfe, the first Black openly gay director on Broadway.

Next, Theatre Dance teacher Cynthia Ashford will teach some of the choreography from the show. Look for updates soon!

“Into the Storm” is Booker’s gift to community

Kiara Harris, Sydney Catalfino, Carol Fauls, and Lindsey Jennings: Film’s Dream Team chronicles Booker Tornadoes’ Dream Team in award-winning documentary

The film chronicles the astonishing wins of the 1967 Booker Tornadoes basketball team, a team that cleaned up and won the state championship that year. Ironically, the film itself just can’t stop winning–it premiered in 2019 to a stunned audience at the Sarasota Film Festival, then later was the opening night feature screened at the American embassy at the Prague Youth Film Festival.

Now, VPA’s Film & Animation Department has gifted the community the superb documentary created by the senior class of 2019, “Into the Storm.” The documentary’s story, set against the turbulence of the Civil Rights movement, depicts both vile racism and admirable courage here in Sarasota.

Much more great news on this incredible documentary will be released soon! In the meantime, there’s no better time to reflect on Black history right here in Sarasota. Watch it today!

This film was made possible by a generous donation from Tervis Tumbler. If you’re moved to donate to the Film & Animation program, you can do so here.

Dance turns it up with hip hop

The VPA Dance Department embeds the appreciation and study of dance forms from all cultures, including Flamenco, Afro-modern and hip hop. This week, we turned our focus to hip hop artist extraordinaire, Kris Powell. His hip hop classes go far beyond the movement and into its purpose and meaning.

August Wilson offers much to be discovered for Theatre students

Mr. Keys invites students to make connections between Wilson’s work and the struggle that can inform art.

The Level 4 Theatre class viewed an interview with Pulitzer-prize winning playwright August Wilson and students were assigned the viewing of the film adaptation of “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom,” starring Viola Davis and the late Chadwick Boseman.  

The 60-Minutes interview explores how Wilson’s upbringing informed his artistic mission, to write a play that represents issues of race for each decade of the 20th century.

Students learned about the cruelty that Wilson encountered as a Black student in a predominantly white school. They learned about his subsequent drop out from his sophomore year.

The American playwright August Wilson.

From there, Wilson immersed himself in studying in the public Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh. He also surrounded himself with the down-and-out people in menial jobs and on the streets. Together, these experiences led to his uniquely exquisite ability to capture and represent raw and honest depictions of the Black American experience.

The class also viewed an acceptance speech from Viola Davis from her role in Wilson’s “Fences.” They’ll convene on Monday to discuss Wilson’s play “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom” as adapted into film.

Music honors lives and contributions of Black musicians

America simply wouldn’t be what it is musically if it weren’t for Black musicians who have shaped our entire music history, creating new forms of music like jazz and the blues that have conceived of almost everything in modern music.

To celebrate the contributions to music of Black American artists, Music Department students have researched biographies and created posters to create a gallery walk of the greats in bldg 8. Here’s a selection of posters. Stay tuned for more!

Bridging the gap between middle and high schools

Ms. Saxton conducts the Booker Middle School band. Go, Tornadoes!

With Covid keeping us from bringing large groups to middle schools, innovations loom large as we implement ways to build connections to aspiring middle school artists. VPA Art Department Chair Steve Strenk led a portfolio development class for the top tier students in Brian Hubbard’s SSA+S art classes.

Meanwhile, Band Director Ellen Saxton traveled to Booker Middle to hear that school’s band perform and offer words of encouragement. Vocal Director Alex Zickafoose also got some facetime with the Booker Middle School musicians.

Acceptd is live!

Thanks to web guru Nick Jones, our Production Manager, our Acceptd online platform is live and we’re accepting applications! Spread the word to young aspiring artists to begin their journey today at

Magnet Night guests can learn about each department, meet teachers, discover academic opportunities through our Cambridge program and more!

And of course Magnet Night in the Zoom Room is still on for Feb. 9. Encourage your friends with questions to join us to discover all the great opportunities we have to offer here at Booker VPA. They can register for the Zoom here and watch from the comfort of their home–we’ll even have some friends from Minnesota joining us!

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