Emilie Baartman is the Education Assistant at Gulfshore Playhouse.
“And just like that, it’s December!” That is what I’ve been hearing a lot for the past few days. This past fall semester at Gulfshore Playhouse has been crazy busy, especially in the Education department. There was Shipwrecked, our production with the Naples Philharmonic, which was performed for the entire 11th grade in Collier County. There was also In Flight, which began touring at the very beginning of November, along with the residency that went with the show, The Kindness Project. We even had our Rising Star Luncheon in November, featuring the fabulous Holland Taylor as our keynote speaker. And then there were our three new programs that we just started this year: The Youth Conservatory, workshops with Lighthouse of Collier, and Godspell with the Naples Senior Center.
We first began rehearsals for our Youth Conservatory. We had thirteen students involved, all between the ages of nine and thirteen. They would meet every Tuesday from 4PM-6PM, so two hours a week to rehearse their pieces. At first, we started out with two songs and one acting scene. By the performance on December 2nd, these students were memorizing four songs (with choreography), and three acting scenes, including Shakespeare. SHAKESPEARE! I was fortunate to have worked with a lot of these students during the summer production of The Wizard of Oz, so working with them again, and watching them perform onstage in front of their families and friends, is truly an experience worth being a part of. Also, quick plug in: Enrollment for the Spring Conservatory is open now! Starting on January 7th, and going on every Tuesday until the recital on May 4th!
Our second program we were able to work with was providing workshops with Lighthouse of Collier. Lighthouse is an organization that provides classes and services for individuals with visual impairments. As an advocate for inclusive theatre, especially with all ability theatre and performing arts, this program is close to my heart. We were a small group, but these students would come in every Saturday morning and be involved in fun theatrical activities. One of our favorite workshops was working with props, and how you were able to use different objects for different purposes (small garden shovel used as a phone/taco). We ended our sessions with attending a Saturday matinee performance of It’s A Wonderful Life, along with a tour of the theatre, and a workshop focused on Foley Art.
The third program that happened this past fall was working with the Naples Senior Center and putting up a seated presentation of Godspell. At first we started out with five seniors who kept coming in (I liked to call them the Fab Five), and as the class spread through word of mouth, we eventually ended with eight seniors for the production. As the seniors continued to learn their songs and the lines, I continued to learn more about each senior and their backgrounds in performing arts. For instance, one senior built a theatre in his garage in St. Petersburg that held 300 performances within five years, and then another senior met her husband while they were both touring with Peter Gabriel in England. Each of the seniors brings so much energy to the Godspell songs and lines, and they are so excited to be sharing their talents with everyone December 8th.
Being able to be a part of these programs has been truly exceptional. Theatre has some way to open the door for others looking to expand their love for the arts, needing an escape from reality, or seeking a safe space to be themselves. Using Theatre to reach out to people of all backgrounds is life changing, and one action can change one’s perspective on anything. Whether it’s providing skill-building workshops with Lighthouse, teaching young students how to say “doth”, or bringing the spark of performing theatre back into the lives of seniors, Theatre is a truly impactful type of art.