STAR Isn’t Just a Catchy Title

Leah Shaeffer HeadshotLeah Shaeffer is Gulfshore Playhouse’s Director of Education. Leah is spearheading all of The Playhouse’s educational opportunities, including our STAR and ThinkTheatre programs. 

Hello, friends!  Since I’m new to Gulfshore Playhouse this season and very new to this blog, I’d like to introduce myself to all of you. My name is Leah Shaeffer, and I am absolutely thrilled to be Gulfshore Playhouse’s new Director of Education.

Since most of my blogs this season will be about Education here at the Playhouse (shocking, I know!), I want to fill you all in about the exciting things going on in the realm of Education!

This week marks the start of Gulfshore Playhouse’s STAR Academy, our after-school theatre classes, and I could not be more excited!  Through STAR Academy, we aim to nurture creative instinct and artistic capability, cultivating instinct into theatrical skill.  For our smallest STARs, this means being guided through role-play and shaping “playing pretend” into a solid foundation of artistic skill and knowledge.  For our most advanced STARs, this means in-depth scene study and character analysis, taught by our fearless leader and Artistic Director extraordinaire, Kristen Coury! 

STAR isn’t just a catchy title – it stands for “Student Theatre Artists in Residence”.  I believe that our STARs are more than just students – they are truly theatre artists.  Our youngest STARs are just three years old, and this sentiment applies to them just as much as it applies to our older students.  I can’t wait to watch our STARs, from pre-school to high school, begin or continue their journeys of both artistic and personal growth.  It is a privilege to be a part of any student’s process of self-discovery, and it reminds me of the important role that theatre played in my own formative years.

I hope that you are all eagerly anticipating Gulfshore Playhouse’s second annual New Works Festival, which is now in full swing!  Kicking off alongside our New Works Festival is a brand-new Gulfshore Playhouse Education program with the shared goal of supporting new works, but with a focus on (you guessed it) education and young people:  STARWrights!

STARWrights is a group of highly dedicated and promising young playwrights from around Southwest Florida who will travel to Gulfshore Playhouse once a month to take part in discussions, master classes, and workshops with fellow young playwrights, as well as their more-established counterparts.  Through STARWrights, we’re aiming to create a greenhouse-like environment in which student playwrights can blossom; a supportive space where art can be formed and re-formed.  I am truly looking forward to seeing what our STARWrights absorb from such an environment and providing them with new and unique opportunities to learn, and the impact that this program will doubtless have on their work over the course of a year.

In a delightful turn of events, all four of the playwrights being featured in the 2014 New Works Festival have graciously agreed to meet with our STARWrights during their very first session this Saturday!  Thank you, Stephen Spotswood, Jennifer Lane, Scott C. Sickles, and Bianca Sams – I know that our STARWrights will learn so much from your willingness to share your wisdom.

Those of you who are more intimately familiar with Gulfshore Playhouse Education may be wondering, “Hey, what’s happening with ART SMART, Gulfshore Playhouse’s acclaimed in-school residency program?”  Good question!  Due to the changing tides of education standards and the needs of schools, ART SMART has been revitalized and is living a new life as… (drumroll, please…) ThinkTheatre!

Thanks to the generosity of the Suncoast Credit Union Foundation, Gulfshore Playhouse’s ThinkTheatre program will be bringing the arts to Title I schools in Lee and Collier County!  ThinkTheatre is an innovative new program that integrates the theatre arts with core curriculum and education standards in the schools that need the arts the most.

Having worked with a variety of high-need students, from inner-city youth in Cleveland to Myanmar refugee children, I can say with certainty that the arts—and particularly theatre—can have a positive and life-changing impact on children, and the importance of bringing theatre to students who might not otherwise have the opportunity to participate in the arts is enormous.  Theatre gives children the tools for healthy self-expression, exploration, and interaction with others.  This is not a frivolity.  This is a need.  And it is a need that Gulfshore Playhouse can, and will, fulfill for the students in our community.

Whether we’re teaching pre-school students literacy skills by acting out their favorite picture books in a Head Start classroom, creating a pantomime of the water cycle in a charter school’s earth sciences class, or giving high school students the chance to put themselves in Romeo or Juliet’s shoes, we can’t wait to give the students of Lee and Collier Counties the opportunity to both learn through theatre, and to share their own stories.  I am excited, as always, to teach, but I am just as excited to learn from the students whose lives Gulfshore Playhouse will touch through ThinkTheatre.

Although there is much more that I could say about Gulfshore Playhouse’s burgeoning education programs, I will urge you, my friends, to continue to read this blog throughout the season.  I promise that I will keep you posted on all things Gulfshore Playhouse Education, and I know that my fellow artists and colleagues will have captivating tales to tell.

I will leave you with this: My first few months here at Gulfshore Playhouse have convinced me that this is a very special organization, and a very special part of the world.  From the parents of STARs who have welcomed me with open arms and warm letters, to my amazing coworkers who have taken large chunks out of their already-packed schedules to teach the next generation of theatre artists, to the educators who have eagerly begun to collaborate on innovative and individualized arts programs – I could not ask for a more supportive community.  Thank you, friends!

2 thoughts on “STAR Isn’t Just a Catchy Title

  1. Leah…It was wonderful meeting you last week at the “envelope party”; I just know students of all ages are in for a terrific experience with you as educator of STAR Academy and ThinkTheater. Welcome!

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