Dig Deeper

Leah Shaeffer HeadshotLeah Shaeffer is Gulfshore Playhouse’s Director of Education.

I reflect on and advocate for Gulfshore Playhouse’s STAR after-school and ThinkTheatre in-school programs quite a bit. I have had many moving, eye-opening experiences with our students this year; from the Pre-K students in our Head Start ThinkTheatre residencies to the high school playwriting students I meet with and mentor through STARwrights. I have been so lucky to have worked with such a large and diverse group of students from all over Collier and Lee Counties this year, and I hope that our scope of in- and after-school programs will only continue to grow!

However, it would be a mistake for me to fail to mention the experiences that I have had with our patrons this season through our Synergy programs. For those who may not know, Synergy is Gulfshore Playhouse’s way of inviting our patrons to dig deeper into the themes surrounding our shows, and to join the Playhouse community. Synergy is a truly collaborative effort at the Playhouse, with everyone from our interns to our fearless leader and Producing Artistic Director Kristen Coury joining forces to plan and program Synergy events that will hopefully engage our patrons in new and exciting ways.

As Director of Education, my primary communications are with parents, educators, and students. For me, Synergy is one of the best ways that I can get to know our wonderful patrons and subscribers! I have had the privilege of getting to know many of you this season through our pre-show conversations. Each time I lead a pre-show conversation, I’m surprised by—and grateful for—the insights, opinions, and experiences that our patrons so willingly share with me and with each other. These conversations are, without fail, enlightening, respectful, and thoughtful.

As part of our Synergy Series, Gulfshore Playhouse partnered with The Immokalee Foundation to collect socks and school supplies for students in need in Immokalee.

As part of our Synergy Series, Gulfshore Playhouse partnered with The Immokalee Foundation to collect socks and school supplies for students in need in Immokalee.

Though every pre-show conversation is delightful in its’ own way, my favorite of the season so far was the final conversation I led for Jacob Marley’s Christmas Carol. Prompted by questions about morality and goodwill, fitting for any play based on Dickens’ holiday classic, our patrons shared views and swapped stories, until one patron boldly said:

“It really comes down to one thing: Are we responsible for helping others? Or is it something we choose to do?”

This was wildly divisive, but in a good way. The conversation became even more spirited as the group delved deeper into the question. We were split fairly evenly. Some defended the idea that we, as people living on earth, have an innate responsibility to help our fellow man whenever and however we are able. Some staunchly stated that helping others is great, but it’s not required or demanded of us in any way—it’s a choice.

We never really reached a verdict; that’s not the point of our pre-show conversations, or of Synergy as a whole. We unfolded the issues at the center of our play—and unfolded, and unfolded, and unfolded—and heard the opinions and experiences of others as we shared our own. Our minds were opened a crack wider than they had been when we entered the conversation.

And evidently our hearts were opened, too. As our patrons left the pre-show conversation and headed into the theatre, I watched many of them stop in the lobby to donate to our charitable drive to benefit the children of the Immokalee Foundation. Patrons on either side of the conversation dipped into their pockets without a second thought to help those in need.

Are we responsible for helping others? Or is it something we choose to do? I can’t say for sure. But I can say that our patrons, and the community of people and organizations who support Gulfshore Playhouse, help others generously.

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