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. 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–Nov. 28, 2021

VPA Welcomes Lizzi Nehls as Production Manager

Lizzi Nehls

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

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

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

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

Dance: “Six Degrees of Separation” Unites

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

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

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

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

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

Famed Filmmaker Visits VPA Film & Animation

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

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

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

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

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

Focus on Film: On Set

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

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

VPA Theatre Students Learn Lesson in Casting

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

The panel of judges takes notes and offers feedback.

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

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

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

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

Coming Events!

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

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

HOCO 2021–A Week in Pictures

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

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

Hermitage Artist Retreat Partners with Booker VPA

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

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

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

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

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

Dancers Enjoy UF/Santa Fe Masterclass

A ballet class delivered through Zoom.

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

Dancing Through Career Exploration

Students absorb Augustine’s wisdom.

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

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

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

Upcoming Events

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dance Students Wrap Week with UF Master Class

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

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

Trent Dwight Williams, Associate Professor of Dance and Choreography

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

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

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

Hispanic Music Artists Celebrated for Hispanic Heritage Month

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

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

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

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

Music Student’s Spirit and Grit Featured on Fox News

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

It turns out, music isn’t the only area in which he excels. The video highlights Levi’s training for a hardcore 5k obstacle competition on Oct. 9. To master such video editing and computer skills, instead of joining any anonymous training center, join a trusted online training center like like Training Connection. Check out the spirited and gifted Levi, and his quest to shatter every boundary, by clicking the screenshot below!

BHS Invited to Event on Inclusion in the Arts

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

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

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

Upcoming Events

Be sure to check out these upcoming events!

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

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

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