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The CNC produces journalism on a variety of topics in Sarasota, Manatee and DeSoto counties for about a dozen media partners including newspapers, radio and television stations and magazines.

A Sarasota theater group’s summer program opens curtains on inclusion

Children singing
Sarah Owens
Community News Collaborative
Residents of The Haven in Sarasota rehearse their portion of “Off The Charts!” during Florida Studio Theatre’s summer program called Public Works Sarasota.

FST’s Public Works Sarasota delivers a stage-performance experience to groups of kids and adults who might not otherwise have the opportunity to perform.

Florida Studio Theatre this summer delivered a performing arts experience for adults and children through a new community engagement program called Public Works Sarasota.

FST partnered with CreArte Latino Cultural Center, Girls Inc., the DeSoto Boys & Girls Club, and The Haven to directly involve clients in the theater-making process, bringing a series of workshops and live performances to the partner sites.

“One of FST’s mission points is to make theater affordable and accessible to as many people as possible,” said Caroline Saldivar, FST’s Director of Children’s Theatre. “Public Works Sarasota is one way for us to remove the barriers that prevent members of the community from connecting with the theater. This initiative blurs the line between ‘artist’ and ‘audience’ by having the public join the creative process, learning about all that goes into putting together a show.”

Public Works Sarasota, funded by the National Endowment for the Arts, was created to bring the performing arts to members of underserved populations in the surrounding community. FST chose the show “Off the Charts!,” a family-friendly musical revue celebrating the universal language of music, as the core of the program.

About 12 adults and children from The Haven, a community for people with disabilities, took part, said Chief Operating Officer Alison Thomas.

Woman smiling, standing in front of two prints
Sarah Owens
Community News Collaborative
Nikki Graybeal recently became a resident of The Haven.

“It made me feel good and made me get out of my comfort zone,” said Nikki Graybeal, a resident at The Haven. “It was nice to perform around my peers and my teachers and show how I can do it and succeed at it.”

As part of this program, FST Teaching Artists traveled to each partner organization to lead a six-week series of workshops exploring such topics as acting methodology, singing, and movement. FST was able to adapt the program to the needs of their partners, including an artist fluent in Spanish for those who speak English as a second language, and adjusting choreography for those with limited experience or mobility.

During these workshops, each organization selected one section of “Off the Charts!” to rehearse. At the end of the summer, participants performed their portions of the show alongside professional actors for an invited audience on their organization’s campus.

“I think, especially for our younger groups, this is a lot of their first experiences with live theater. And I think nowadays there’s constant discussion of whether or not live theater is going to be able to live and survive on,” said FST literary fellow and “Off the Charts!” actor Dellan Short. “I think if we don’t reach out to these kids when they’re young and show them what it can be and give them a good experience, then we’re not doing our due diligence as artists to establish the next generation.”

This summer served as a pilot program of Public Works Sarasota, which FST hopes to continue and expand on next summer.

Sarah Owens is a reporter for the Community News Collaborative. You can reach her at slowens@cncfl.org