Asolo’s Education Program Is A Straight-A Success Story
As a big fan of the Asolo Rep, I thought I knew everything about the organization. But even I was amazed to discover the breadth and depth of its outreach and education programs.
My knowledge increased at the Asolo’s first-ever Theatre Arts Youth Education luncheon, held last week at Michael’s on East. I knew immediately this would be an interesting luncheon when, in addition to name tags, all guests received “report cards” with our table designation (I was happy that my card directed me to table “P for Perfect”).
Brian Hersh, the Asolo’s education and outreach director, was the affable host. He introduced a terrific video that gave us a visceral sense of how life-changing these programs are for the students they reach.
And the Asolo reaches more than 14,000 middle and high-school students a year in Manatee and Sarasota counties. Some of the students come to the Asolo for student matinees, while in other cases the Asolo comes to them, with such productions as this year’s Hamlet Redux, a scaled-down, 60-minute version of the Bard’s drama.
The education department also encompasses Kaleidoscope, which serves the developmentally challenged, Lend Us Your Voice, which helps students create their own plays, and a student journalism program about theater criticism.
Hersh said most of the students served have never seen a performance of live theater before, and nearly all of those surveyed after performances say they’re eager to see another.
The emotional high point of the video was a scene involving deaf students who watched a production of Hamlet Redux in which FSU/Asolo actors were paired with performers who signed. At the end of the play, the kids in the audience began waving their arms wildly above their heads – the hearing-impaired version of vociferous applause.
Michael Edwards, the Asolo’s producing artistic director, praised Hersh and his education team for making the program such a standout. Edwards also talked about the Asolo’s upcoming production of Hamet, Prince of Cuba.
Most of those performances will be done in English, but several will be performed by the same cast in Spanish. The Spanish-language student matinee was the first to sell out, Edwards noted proudly. For he committed to this project because he felt the Asolo had an obligation to build bridges to the Hispanic community.
Margot and Warren Coville, major supporters of the education program, received an award at the luncheon, as did Teri Hansen of the Gulf Coast Community Foundation, which helped revive the student touring program in 2008.
Asolo’s Yentl Gets Air Time On NPR
Singer-songwriter Jill Souble. Photo by Kristine Larsen.
The Asolo’s current production of Yentl (read Kay Kipling's review here) got some national publicity recently when it was the focus of a report on NPR.
The Asolo production, as you may know by now, bears little resemblance to the Barbra Streisand film, about a young girl who passes as a boy so she can study at a Yeshiva school. The plot of the play is much closer to the original Isaac Bashevis Singer short story. Instead of Papa, Can You Hear Me?, the production features new music by singer/songwriter Jill Sobule.
Sobule told NPR’s Guy Raz that she views Yentl as being about a transgender woman’s coming-of-age.
“There was no word for it back then, but I think [she] was transgender,” Sobule said of the title character. “I mean, it’s several times in the book where the father says to her, ‘You have the soul of a man and the body of a woman.’”
Singer was critical of the singing in the Streisand film. In the Asolo staging, none of the characters sing on stage. The music is a kind of offstage Greek chorus. Sobule thinks Singer would like her version, because her music “keeps the spirit of the play and has a sense of humor.”
Sobule, by the way, will be giving a concert of her songs at the Asolo on Feb. 13.