Youth arts program puts kids on stage

Approximately 50 students, aged from 8 to 17, will take to the stage Saturday and Sunday, many of them performing in front of the public for the first time.

The students, participants of the 2002 Summer Play Program run by Pre-College and Community Outreach, will appear in Roots of Independence at USF Theatre II, in a performance comprising music, dance and drama. The production, which is also written by the participants of the program, is the culmination of three weeks of classes in theater art, dance and music for the stage, and drama. The performance explores the value young people place on their freedom as Americans and the obstacles they face as they seek to express their personal independence.

Jean Calandra, director for pre-college and community outreach for educational research and program director, said the program gives participants a creative outlet that can act as a catalyst to help them come to terms with issues in their personal lives.

“A lot of what they came up with is to do with the fact that with independence comes responsibility,” said Calandra. “The beauty of a production like this is that the kids have an opportunity to explore things that are going on in domestic situations and in their family life.”

Calandra, who started the program as a simple theater program 12 years ago, said her experiences of theatrical culture in Great Britain influenced her to create something for young people in Tampa.

“We didn’t have anything for teenagers to come and learn about theater and performance and also the experience of devising theater,” Calandra said. “The British approach to bring people to investigate social issues and use the theater as a tool for creating meaning and better understanding is a very powerful thing.”

Approximately 150 young people are participating in the Summer Play Program this year. Many are drawn from the Tampa Bay Metropolitan area, with others attracted from Bradenton and from across the bay.

“We have an incredibly diverse group of kids,” Calandra said. “It’s open enrollment. These kids come to the program because their parents have read or heard about the program.”

Classes offered also include Web design, film criticism, photography and visual art-related subjects. Artwork created by students taking visual arts classes will be on display in the lobby of Theatre II from Friday through Sunday.

Seventeen USF students work with the program on an intern basis, gaining experience in theater production and assisting teachers in the classes. The program is fully funded by the fees charged to participants’ parents with the cost of theater rental being recouped from box-office revenue.

For Calandra, the hard work she puts into the program each year is more than offset by the benefits the program yields for participants and for her personally.

“It allows me to be part of the discovery process that is going on. I get to meet kids I’ve never met before and develop a relationship with them through learning,” she said. “Every time I do this program, I am really affected by the intelligence the young people possess. This process gives them an opportunity to use that without being second-guessed.”