Despite our high median age range in Sarasota, the opportunities for young arts enthusiasts in this town are aplenty. Nearly every local arts organization offers a unique program for its youngest constituents. I call it a smart move, as the members of our youngest set are fertile ground for future talent and new audience development.
This week, the Florida Studio Theatre finished this season’s “Write A Play” program, in which 21 winning plays from over 3,000 submissions were staged by a small FST cast. Over 300 people, including the winning young playwrights and their families, traveled to Sarasota to watch the new theatrical works and receive recognition at an awards ceremony. Now in its 22nd year, Write A Play expanded its reach to children living on military bases throughout Florida, which produced two winning plays and a tour to Kiryat Yam, Israel, from which three winning plays were performed during the festival.Those of you who regularly read my posts know I have a special fondness for sharing the arts with my two-year-old daughter Daphne. After hearing that the Under Six program, which I enjoyed many years ago before I became a mom, was playing last weekend, I figured it was the perfect opportunity to bring Daphne to her first official play. All of the plays were written by children from kindergarten to sixth grade. Surely kids know what kids love, so I thought it would be right up her alley.
Although she was troubled when the lights were lowered, Daphne was captivated by many of the plays. Our favorite by far was The Boy Who Whistled, which Daphne has been talking about repeatedly for days. In this short play by fifth grader Tyler Wilson of Garden Elementary, a young boy loves to play his whistle but when he does, everyone around him immediately falls asleep. He even goes to a doctor, who promptly begins snoring the minute he seeks a cure. This cracked Daphne up. She loved it! Seeing these actors in full costume fall asleep every time a little boy played his whistle was hilarious. Only a young kid could come up with such a great concept to delight other children.
The Center of Planning Babies, by fifth grader Daniel Teper of Almogim School, was pretty intense and actually quite advanced for a youngster. In it, parents visit the eponymous center in hopes of planning the perfect baby for themselves with ideal hair and eyes, but at a cost. Although it was handled in a light-hearted manner, designer babies are surely a hot topic and something young Daniel may be able to take advantage of when he is ready to have a baby. A strange thing to contemplate—but the program moved on quickly to The Fight by fourth grader Virginia Babcock of Sigsbee Charter School, with two people engaging in a playful scuffle in front of the Eiffel Tower, one using a huge baguette. How apropos!Another big hit with Daphne was Ernie’s Beach Day, by fifth grader Matthew Allen of Epiphany Cathedral School.She was excited about this one once she heard the title, and was ready to hop in the car for the beach herself. In the play, Ernie feels ready to search for seashells on his own but his overprotective father follows him. On his journey, he discovers a turtle and a crab. The crab tries to convince him to take the turtle home with him, but the turtle misses his own family under the sea. Ernie thinks better of it and sets the turtle free, learning a valuable lesson about the importance of family and environmental conservation.
We heard from the staff that ABZ’s was not to be missed, but since it came at the end, we unfortunately had already reached Daphne’s limit. The play, by fifth graders Molly Boyas, Zyanne Miller and Donato Quattro of the Julie Rohr Academy, contained a timeless and especially important message for our young people about tolerance and celebrating diversity. To access this kind of topic with young people through playwriting is a worthy and important endeavor, and this year FST won the WEDU “Be More Knowledgeable” Educational Outreach Award, which recognizes programs that offer guidance, knowledge, emotional support and mentorship to the community.
The fact that FST reaches out to schools throughout Florida and now internationally in this yearly award-winning program is extraordinary. Teaching children to access their creativity and write about their feelings and emotions in plays that can be shared with others is a gift. I know that I would have loved such a program as a young person, and I am grateful that in just a few years Daphne will have the chance to participate. If you want to catch Under Six, it is running May 19 – 24 for $6. For show times, contact Jennie Cole, Write A PlayManager, at (941) 366-9797.