Leah Porrata is the Director of Education at Gulfshore Playhouse.
Okay, I know it’s not actually summer – April is still young, and the kids are in school for a couple more months. But here at Gulfshore Playhouse, we are in full summer swing, planning and plotting, creating and calculating, and all for what? Our STAR Academy Summer Camps, of course!
As I recently announced in a meeting, April 15th is when I start to become a rare sight around the office, as my focus truly turns to our summer camps. At that point, the curriculum and schedule for our in-school ThinkTheatre program is completely set, and our fearless Teaching Artist, Samantha, pilots the program through to the end of the school year with as much vigor and verve as we started with in September. Residencies continue through May, of course, with many children’s lives being touched forever through the art of theatre.
April 15th is also when the registration window officially opens to all children through the City of Naples for our summer camps. We have had pre-registration open since February, and have seen a huge response to that, but mid-April is when we start to get waves of registrations every week. With twelve camps serving children ages 3 to 18, the paperwork alone is tremendous! And so, I find myself dashing around from here to there, preparing for events like the Mercato Summer Camp Fair (come stop by our booth on April 17!) or cloistering myself in my office, poring over spreadsheets of student information.
But don’t get me wrong – I absolutely love it. It’s the start of my favorite time of year.
And for so many kids in our community, it’s their favorite time of year, too. Summer is the time of year when our STARs – Student Theatre Artists in Residence here at the Playhouse – get to take to the same stage where our professionals work during the school year. It’s the time of year when they come together to learn from the Playhouse’s talented theatre artists. Between the specialty camps for our younger actors, the high school acting and musical theatre intensives taught by our Artistic Associate and Broadway veteran Jeff Binder, and of course the full-scale children’s theatre productions of Disney’s The Jungle Book Kids and Disney’s Beauty and the Beast Jr., there are so many ways for them to shine.
To give these STARs a truly excellent experience, we give them the chance to work with real theatre professionals. The sets, costumes, props, lights, and special effects are beyond anything these kids will experience outside of the Playhouse. The curriculum for our classes is rich and immersive, aligned with Florida’s Education Standards for Drama/Theatre, and we take great pains to assess each student weekly on each content area so that they and their parents can see and monitor their educational progress. Our staff is experienced and well-trained, many with graduate degrees and all with a wealth of professional – and even Broadway – experience.
However, every valuable experience for a child comes with a price tag. As our summer camps have grown to serve so many children in our community, so have our expenses. Truthfully, every single child’s summer camp tuition is subsidized; not a single student’s tuition truly covers all of the expenses associated with putting that child through camp. Many of our students come from households that simply cannot afford the full tuition cost, as reduced as it already is. We estimate that about half of all of the students who register for our STAR Academy Summer Camps need some kind of scholarship assistance in order to have this valuable camp experience.
Additionally, some of our scholarship students fall below the poverty line, relying on us for assistance with food, clothing, and other basic needs during their time at camp. When school is out of session, many children find themselves without access to the help that our public schools provide, such as free or reduced lunches, hygiene products, and clothing vouchers. At Gulfshore Playhouse, we know that caring for our students means that we are meeting all of their needs. It is difficult, if not impossible, to nourish a mind and heart when the body is malnourished.
Through our STAR Summer Camps, we provide excellent, high-quality theatre education opportunities to the youth in our community. But we provide so much more than that. We strive to create a place where every child can be cared for and nurtured, where creativity and self-expression are encouraged, where friends are made and self-confidence built, and where each child can both fit in and stand out. Gulfshore Playhouse is a place where all children can shine.
We need your help to ensure that the at-risk children in our community have the chance to be cared for, educated, and nurtured this summer. Won’t you consider donating to our STAR Scholarship Fund to give a child the chance to shine?