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–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.