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The Art of Survival

The Art of Survival

Local students of the arts are keeping their dreams alive as instructors embrace technology and get creative

Gianni Gizzi in Gulfshore Playhouse’s production of The Addams Family.
Photo by Matthew Schipper

This pandemic has shut almost everything down, but local arts organizations are using technology and following CDC guidelines to keep students engaged and safe. It hasn’t been easy, for both students and teachers, but the show must go on here in Southwest Florida.

And it has. Gulfshore Playhouse in Naples recently sold out all performances for its The Addams Family student production. All performers wore face coverings during rehearsals and performances (see photo, left). In addition, house capacity remained at 50%, with seats properly distanced. Two new productions are planned for December: Little Women and Ebenezer. Little Women takes the stage Dec. 4-6 while Ebenezer performance dates are Dec. 17-19.

Gulfshore Playhouse also has been offering online theater education and experiences for young actors in the community.

“Throughout the pandemic, we created new immersive audience engagement programs – Artful Distancing and Broadway

Masterclass Virtual Series,” said Megan Meyer, spokesperson for Gulfshore Playhouse. “Artful Distancing is a free, weekly series of virtual theater-based content, designed to connect audiences, from the comfort of home, to the larger theater patron community around the country. The Broadway Masterclass Virtual Series gives participants the opportunity to receive direct training from professional theater artists.”

KidzAct at The Naples Players (TNP) has offered both inperson and online classes for kids in recent months, and staged Moana, Jr. in August, with performers wearing masks and the audience socially distanced (see photo, facing page, top).

TNP has been offering a variety of online content and classes, including its popular Comedy Club for Teens, which provides an opportunity to learn the ropes of improv and comedic acting. The class is led by Craig Price, director of community education and wellness at TNP, and a graduate of The Second City in Chicago.

KidzAct is holding auditions for The Sound of Music on Sept. 12, and performances are scheduled for December.

Dance Arts by Maria is celebrating the start of its 15th season, and is holding in-person instruction this fall. Owner Maria Ellis Nave said the studio is keeping classes small and requiring staff to wear masks. “We are cleaning regularly in between classes and provide hand sanitizer for everyone,” she added.

Dance Arts also is offering small classes of six or fewer students for homeschooling families. “We are including the moms too,” Nave added. “A new option class called Moms Matter Too will allow moms to take Zumba or dance cardio while their little dancers are taking their classes.”

Violet O’Donnell participates in an Irish dance Zoom class at home. 
Dancers rehearse The Nutcracker at The Naples Academy of Ballet.

Getting creative

In addition to embracing technology, arts instructors have developed creative ways to teach safely during the pandemic. The Naples Academy of Ballet is presenting its performance of The Nutcracker outdoors at Cambier Park in Naples this year. And The Vocal Ring Studio (VRS) in Naples is rolling out an outdoor studio location so that students can experience safe, in-person voice lessons, starting in October.

“The stability of VRS was put to the test when COVID-19 hit in March,” said co-owner Taylor Ferranti. “In-person lessons ... were considered problematic due to aerosol droplets and the suspension of aerosols in the air. The studio transitioned to online-only lessons in the spring and continues to operate remotely. Ferranti noted that enrollment has remained solid. “The reason VRS continues to thrive amidst a pandemic is that making music together is therapeutic and a powerful way to help students feel grounded and stay connected,” he explained.

Laura Ferranti of The Vocal Ring School teaches a voice lesson via Zoom.

Backstage Dance Academy (BDA) in Naples came up with a creative alternative to canceling its annual year-end recital – the Red Carpet Event. Each dancer had the option to go into the studio and record their dances individually. Each dancer could bring in up to four guests per dance, take pictures in costume, and sign the wall in the studio with encouraging messages for fellow dancers. All of the individual videos were then synced, to make it look like the students all were dancing side by side.

“I absolutely loved this new, innovative solution,” said Victoria Poff, a sophomore at Barron Collier High School and BDA student for 12 years, “and I had the best time dancing!”

Moving quickly

BDA immediately moved to online-only instruction in March when dance studios across the state were forced to close. “I was pleasantly surprised at how fast BDA offered Zoom classes,” Victoria said. She not only took eight classes each week via Zoom, but also acted as a teacher’s assistant virtually for a tap class.

“The most challenging part of virtual dance was not being in the physical dance studio,” she said. “I never realized how important a proper floor, mirrors, space, and other dance equipment are when dancing. It was very difficult to dance on tile or carpet rather than a slick marley floor, and using a piano as a ballet barre was also a big change!”

The studio reopened in June. The enthusiasm of the instructors and the safety protocols put in place by staff made the transition back to the studio an easy one for Victoria. “My favorite part of being back is getting to see my wonderful dance family and learn new, exciting choreography for this year,” she noted.

Silver lining

Irish dancer Violet O’Donnell is an 8th grader at North Naples Middle School and also this month’s Neapolitan Family cover model. Pre-pandemic, Violet had been traveling to the Drake School of Irish Dance, South Florida in Coral Springs four times a week for classes. When dance studios were directed to close in March, the Drake studio moved to Zoom lessons.

“We are very lucky that we have technology that allows Violet to keep practicing,” said Diana O’Donnell, Violet’s mother. “We had to make room for her since she practices a lot at home, and we make it work.”

There has been a silver lining in the pandemic for Violet.

“I noticed that Violet is getting in more practice time since online classes are now available,” said Diana. “This has not been done before, and I think it will change the future. It may become a permanent thing for dancers, since Zoom is more convenient for our schedules.” Along with virtual classes, Violet is traveling again to the Coral Springs studio for slightly altered lessons. The dancers have been placed in “micro groups” of eight people. Temperatures are checked as people enter the studio, and staff are required to wear face masks.