Booker Visual & Performing Arts Center: The Triumph of Art

In challenging times, art can be both a solution and a healer. At least, that’s what can be learned from arts programs like the Booker Visual & Performing Arts Center. 

Part of Sarasota’s Booker High School, the program began in the '70s as the state’s first magnet arts program. It started at a time when the civil rights climate was far from perfect. According to Rebecca Abrahamson, VPA Director and herself a Class of ‘92 alumna, “In the late 1960s, the county mandated integration, forcing bussing out of neighborhoods as a way to desegregate schools.” Tempers ran high, and Booker High School, which was named after Emma E. Booker, “an educator and, in her own right, civil rights activist,” was closed due to unrest. “Then superintendent Gerald Strickland decided to put an arts magnet program at the school to attract students from all around Sarasota and to foster organic integration.”

Today the Booker VPA draws and educates talented students across a multimedia spectrum of dance, music, theatre, fine arts, film, and digital animation. Currently, the program includes 340 students in our program, about 260 of whom have a concentration in the performing arts (vs. the visual arts). “Our program is a competitive, audition-based program,” said Abrahamson. “Many of our students come from low-income households (the school’s population living in poverty is more than 70 percent). We think of the program as a safety net for our students, a place where they all feel welcomed and like they belong.”

Abrahamson and a colleague, Nick Jones (Class 2010, and Production Manager), are returning graduates. “I graduated from the Theatre Department in 1992,” she said. Returning to Booker High School as a teacher in 2002, she has been with the program 18 years. “In the first 10 years, I taught screenwriting, cinema literacy, film history and other courses in our TV & Film Program. In 2012, I became the VPA Director, a role that involves overseeing the program’s many facets, including curriculum, hiring staff, marketing, grant-writing and fundraising, and maintaining communications with students and parents.

Together with administrative assistant, Nancy Wachendorf, Abrahamson and Jones comprise the program’s support staff. There are also nine full-time teachers and 13 part-time adjunct faculty. Noted Abrahamson, “One aspect of our program that makes us unique among the arts classes offered at a typical high school is the fact that our faculty are all practicing professionals with illustrious careers outside of teaching. 

“The program,” she said, “actively monitors students to ensure their continued progress and success. Classes in each area are offered as blocks, so students are exposed to a range and depth of their discipline that is not accessible in a typical high school setting.” In terms of performance: some are involved in the program because it gives them an outlet for their creativity and expression, but the majority see performance as a part of their life they cannot live without. Many of our performers plan to study performance in college to pursue careers in the arts. We've graduated many successful artists, including some popular stars of stage and screen: Syesha Mercado, Charlie Barnett, Jeff Meacham, LaMichael Leonard, and more.” 

The curriculum is demanding and diverse. In terms of performance, Abrahamson said, “Each year is different, but typically, we host 11 major mainstage events (four in Music, four in Theatre, two in Dance, and one Film Showcase), five Senior Showcases, and roughly a dozen smaller recitals, classroom projects, and student works. Each show and performance is a favorite in some way, but a few titles that really remain with me are our Theatre’s performances of “Fiddler on the Roof” and “Annie, Get Your Gun.” Both were unbelievable to me, even after seeing a number of impressive performances at Booker High School. The Dance Department has also done some really innovative, thought-provoking work, often involving unique set and light design and staging; and perhaps my favorite annual Music event is ‘Death by Chocolate,’ which is a concert set up in a jazz-club style, featuring three stages and a variety of pieces performed on number of instruments. 

Recently, the Booker VPA added to its portfolio Phantasmic, a virtual/streamed show that was a multidisciplinary showcase of theatre, music and dance. “Phantasmic explores life’s ephemeral nature, the legacies left by those who’ve departed, and the mysteries of secrets that are taken to the grave,” said Abrahamson. A suitably somber subject for life during Covid. “There are, oddly, pros and cons to the COVID influence on our actual curriculum and program. Obviously, audience constraints, mask mandates, and performance restrictions are limiting what we can do in the classroom and on stage. But, in a weird way, what has emerged in the chaos of our current world context has been a steadfast embrace of the arts: they soothe and settle, they offer the solace of human connectedness in a world that is rife with chaos, division, and fear. This can give us in the modern day an understanding of how the arts have endured throughout history. Far from being superfluous, they are essential to existence. Times like these drive that message home.”

Helping them get the message across is AnywhereSeat by Ludus. “It’s a great tool,” Abrahamson enthused. “We’ve had a few virtual events since the pandemic began, but haven’t had a way of selling tickets or really promoting those events in the way that AnywhereSeat allows. The fact that fees are passed to patrons is great for a small-scale school operation like ours, which can’t really afford to eat fees and expensive subscriptions. Our parent revenue sources are shallow, but we manage to put on incredible productions and create works of wide acclaim.” 

Newsome High School Theatre: Life During COVID-19

Producing Artistic Director Chad Cornwell’s advice for getting on top of the situation is to “realize that you are not in this boat alone." Newsome High School Theatre chooses Opportunity Over Adversity.

“Our students have GREAT ideas about how to manage this storm. Adults cannot presume that we are the end-all-be-all of solving this [because] the young generation has some OUTSTANDING ideas that we never even thought of.” 

Any experienced theatre director will tell you that the 2020-2021 will be one for the books. “We usually have two main-stage productions, a fall play and a spring musical,” mused Chad Cornwell, producing artistic director for the Newsome High School Theatre (NHST). “We also produce a competitive one act, two theatre labs (one advanced theatre for each semester), and an access theatre production for students with special needs.” 

In the past, these have included 12 Angry Men and a one act of Warren Leight's Dark No Sugar. “We like to explore productions that allow our cast, crew, and audiences to explore and discuss social issues", said Cornwell. 

For a relatively recent (2004) and small annual program that comprises up to 100 serious theatre students, Newsome High School Theatre has had much more reach than would have been thought possible. “Our students regularly earn superior ratings at the district and state thespian conferences,” said Cornwell, adding, “One student was cast in the American Stage (Tampa's professional theatre) production of Fun Home. One great success story has been Ashlyn [Jade] Lopez. We have many students now exploring performance and tech at the collegiate levels and seeing success.”

Now, in the wake of COVID, “our students, parents, faculty, and staff are all learning what it means to be flexible.” The “new normal” began in April, after the production of Mary Poppins. “We followed the world's happenings almost every week in order to make the best decisions for our students and families and for our program,” said Cornwell.  “There are solutions out there. We did a lot of research from the Educational Theatre Association, the Broadway League, Florida State Athletic Association, and Ludus, about what safe and responsible theatre looks like and how it functions.” 

Thanks to AnywhereSeat by Ludus, Newsome High School Theatre can produce virtual-only shows and - once normalcy returns - offer streaming support for live productions. “It's important that, as a global theatre community, we take every opportunity to participate, engage, celebrate each other at every step,” said Cornwell.  “This fall, we are producing a virtual performance of Sandy Rustin’'s Everything Seems Like Maybe, which is based on the writings of high school students and their experiences with quarantine and COVID.

“When we looked at the current health situation, we decided to move forward with a fall season,” said Cornwell. “Many schools around us and around the world are shutting down, understandably.  So we decided to produce a one act in which we could rehearse in small socially distanced groups, and a virtual production that we are producing as a film.  This gives our students both a stage-theatrical experience AND a film/TV experience.” Even more: “Our students also wrote their own original monologues to accompany the script of Everything Seems Like Maybe.”

During a normal school year, the theatre group acts like an ambassador for the arts. “We work to educate our community about theatre,” said Cornwell. Being part of a very conservative community, We program carefully and stress to our students the importance of community engagement with programs like Art In Unexpected places, where performers pop up for impromptu performances around town - promoting our productions, and just feeding art to the world around us. We draw in more students and welcome students from our feeder middle school into our main-stage productions.”

And, in the normal course of events, students literally run the show. “Our students run all tech for all productions,” noted Cornwell. “They learn and serve as stage managers, assistants, and production directors. I have learned that even greater success comes when I step out of the way and empower students to produce great art,” he concluded.

But because of COVID-19, local theatre has become global theatre. “We live and function in a global world,” remarked Cornwell. “It is important that our students' friends and families can experience and celebrate their work.” And while the pandemic has disrupted for parents and educators, it is now part of “normal” for students. “Our students have GREAT ideas about how to manage this storm,” asserted Cornwell. “Adults cannot presume that we are the end-all-be-all of solving this [because] the young generation has some OUTSTANDING ideas that we never even thought of.” In conclusion, Cornwell’s advice for getting on top of the situation is to “realize that you are not in this boat alone. There are so many resources out there to help keep us all afloat - just seek and ask.” And finally: “Don't think anything is too weird, too strange, too off the wall.  Now is our time for the arts to create, to produce, to put art out into the world - the world needs us!”

Premier Performing Arts: Perfection in Motion
Professional performers are used to “winging it.” So much can happen on stage - forgotten lines, misplaced props, lights going out - that improvising becomes a necessary skill.</div><div> </div><div>But since the advent of COVID-19, winging it has become a way of life. For Premier Performing Arts in Monroeville, PA, the situation was further complicated by its being a proprietary establishment - not a non-profit.</div><div><br /><img src="" alt="" width="1000" height="1498" /></div></div><div> </div><div><div>Even so, the show must go on, and does. “The secret to our success has been our incredible staff. We could not be prouder of the professional and caring instructors,” said Jennifer (Jenn) Probola, co-owner with Kim Meyers-Merge of Premier Performing Arts. “They are the heart of our program!”</div><div> </div><div>Before launching Premier Performing Arts, both Meyers-Merge and Probola were immersed in Pittsburgh's rich arts scene. Meyers-Merge danced on Broadway in "The Tap Dance Kid" and with many touring companies, dinner theaters and summer stock shows across the United States; locally, she has danced with the Pittsburgh CLO, the Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre and the Pittsburgh Opera. Probola, on the other hand, concentrated on technique and choreography - which has been featured once in the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade and twice in the Tournament of Roses Parade. Both she and Meyers-Merge have worked with area high schools to develop dance programs.</div></div></div></div><div> </div><div><img src="" alt="" width="1000" height="668" /></div><div> </div><div title="Page 1"><div><div><div>If dance could be said to be in the blood, it is present in these ardent professionals. “Our students have been accepted into the most prestigious dance and musical theater collegiate programs in the country,” noted Probola. “We believe in artistry, creative expression, and the dedication it requires to achieve classical technique.”</div></div></div></div><div> </div><div><img src="" alt="" width="1000" height="1400" /></div><div> </div><div title="Page 1"><div><div><div>One student, high school sophomore Emily Coles, has been with the school for seven years. “Premier has also taught me a lot about confidence in performing and how important that confidence is in pushing your dancing to the next level. I love that I can walk out of every class with new corrections to apply and new goals to reach.”</div><div> </div><div>Originally the Larry Cervi School of Performing Arts, they changed the name to Premier Performing Arts after the 2017 retirement of their partner, Cervi, in 2017. “We offer instruction in dance, acting, voice, musical theater and piano classes,” said Probola. “All instruction at Premier Performing Arts is offered by professionals. Our staff discusses at the end of each school year the progress the students have made, then agrees on the proper placement for the upcoming school year."</div></div></div></div><div><br /><img src="" alt="" width="1000" height="668" /></div><div><div title="Page 1"><div><div><div><p>"The school does not participate in competitions but offers master classes with industry experts," she explained. “Many of our staff members are involved with choreography and directing projects with middle and high school musicals, dance teams, show choirs and community projects. A few of our staff members perform in dance companies and performance ensembles.”</p></div></div></div></div></div><div><img src="" alt="" width="1000" height="1393" /></div><div> </div><div title="Page 1"><div><div><div>There are dance recitals and music showcases are scheduled throughout the year. While these are not mandatory, they offer experience for young performers who are taking PPA’s lessons in voice, acting, musical theater and piano. “Some of our past performances raised money for charities such as The Leukemia &amp; Lymphoma Society and St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital. Our latest performance was ‘Frozen Jr.’ in December 2019,” Probola said, adding, “we’ve also taken our students to perform in Disney World and Hershey Park.</div></div></div></div><div> </div><div> </div><div><img src="" alt="" width="1000" height="1026" /></div><div> </div><div>Into this busy environment of professional achievement, the coronavirus has introduced a new normal of school closures, quarantines, sheltering in place and more. Fortunately for PPA, its owners were already using technology to enhance aspects of operations. Email, online billing, group messaging and video conferencing technology for business communication, and access to online dance communities and live performances projected on studio TVs to broaden the student’s educational resources. “We also use social media outlets Facebook and Instagram for informational and fun activities,” said Probola. So when the physical business was shuttered, PPA began using Zoom “to teach and also post videos for our students to follow during quarantine.”</div><div> </div><div><img src="" alt="" width="1000" height="1498" /></div><div> </div><div title="Page 1"><div><div><div>Speaking of technology, Probola learned about Ludus from Gateway High School, in whose beautiful, 1,005-seat auditorium PPA holds two dance recitals a year. “They used Ludus for their musical ticket sales and recommended your company.” Now, PPA uses Ludus for its annual dance recitals. “The staff has always answered our questions quickly and our clients find the site easy to navigate. And", Probola noted, “I love that I can copy over the blueprint for the auditorium for each show. Online ticket sales made the recital season so much easier!”<br /><br /></div><div>As states begin to relax their pandemic restrictions, it’s still too early to make plans. Still, while virtual classes are not ideal, “We are so fortunate to have been able to teach Zoom classes,” said Probola. “Our students and staff look forward to being back in person as soon as it is safe for everyone.”<br /><br /></div><div>For more information on performances at Premier Performing Arts, visit their Ludus ticketing portal at <a href=""></a>.</div></div></div></div><div> </div>
Greenville Public Schools: Ground Floor
<p><em>Note: This is a “Life during COVID-19” story. Please read the inspiring message.</em></p><p><em><span>Greenville High School had just started rehearsals for The Crucible when Michigan’s sheltering-in-place order took effect on March 23. The students and staff decided to continue with virtual rehearsals.</span></em></p><p><span>Chris Chapman has been Auditorium Manager at Greenville Public Schools’ Performing Art Center since the beginning, in 1998. You might say he got in on the ground floor because, driving down for his interview, “I could see the construction. The auditorium wasn’t even finished!”</span></p><p><img src="" alt="" width="2048" height="1536" /></p><p><span>Both the Performing Arts Center (PAC) and the performing arts program it nurtures have come a long way since then. It’s been a wild ride, “a hard and awesome experience.” Chapman has seen the program change and expand in many great ways. “It now has a full band, choir and orchestra, with up to 75 productions and concerts. In the first 20 years, “over one million people were seated in the auditorium! I feel honored to be among those who put it together and help it go someplace.”</span></p><p><span>Somewhere near the PAC’s 20th anniversary, a theatre program was added, with two shows each semester. With about one in four students in its performing arts program, Greenville’s productions get <i>monster</i> participation. (“Theatre does a fall musical every year. There were close to 100 students in Mamma Mia,” Chapman boasted.) This is due, in part, to Greenville's creation of a kind of performing arts funnel.” The program begins at the elementary level, Chapman explained. Each year, there are four elementary programs, up to three middle school concerts (“and a play every other year”).</span></p><p><img src="" alt="" width="2138" height="1425" /></p><p><span>High school students who are in the program mentor the middle-schoolers. “It’s cool,” noted Chapman,<span>  </span>“to see students who have done it forever. And cool to see new students as well!” And for the elementary students, said Chapman, “There’s a talent show,” said Chapman, “which teaches the students performing techniques (even performing etiquette, like how close to stand to a mic, using monitors). It’s to teach them, but also lets them have fun and be confident!”</span></p><p><span>Chapman, who has a BA theater and technical arts from Central Michigan University, assists students who want to learn stagecraft. “We’ve always wanted to provide a comparable experience for students in the technical side of theater, too. The purpose is to drive students to do everything, rather than leave it to adults. Adults are there to supervise, but students do everything. Talking to students before the show, and handing it off to the student beforehand ‘letting them run the show’ is super gratifying.”</span></p><p><img src="" alt="" width="2048" height="1536" /></p><p><span>Ten years ago, the program shifted focus to supporting students to be college ready. “Portfolios, interview, audition prep ready. Many students are able to go into this for college, too!”<span>  </span>This may be why the PAC hosts the West Michigan Theatre Festival, which features two days of workshops and shows with non-competitive critique for participating high schools. “The point is to help improve programs,” said Chapman, noting that there is a huge range of performances: ten schools and more than 300 students from across the state participated.”</span></p><p><img src="" alt="" width="1000" height="662" /></p><p><span>Joy Behrends, who teaches Elementary Music, also cited such program enrichments as a Master Class at the High School level that featured an actor from the touring production of Hamilton, underwritten by the OUR 3 Endowment through the Education Foundation of Greenville. Elementary students were also able to go to DeVos Hall and experience a concert by the Grand Rapids Symphony.<span>  </span>“I am so thankful to work in a school system within a community that so greatly values the Performing Arts. The Education Foundation of Greenville provides amazing resources for our students, and I am proud of the things we do for kids.”</span></p><p><span>Concentrating on craft rather competition helps students think beyond high school and to consider what a future vocation might entail. Perhaps for this reason, Greenville appears to take on a larger ratio of serious plays to crowd-pleasing musicals. Of the festival shows that Chapman says have been rewarding, he’s directed Martian Chronicles and Fahrenheit 451 Those shows had magical theater moments, “where the audience is so engaged. Martian Chronicles had creepy moments, with audience gasping, which pumped the performers up.”</span></p><p><img src="" alt="" width="1236" height="1018" /></p><p><span>But moments like live audience feedback have been put on hold indefinitely, Greenville feels the challenges that COVID-19 is creating for human interaction. Greenville High School had just started rehearsals for The Crucible when Michigan’s sheltering-in-place order took effect on March 23. “There was one week of regular rehearsals before everything happened,” remembered Brooke Heintz, one of Greenville’s rotating theatre directors. “The students and I sat down before the closing to talk about how they want to go about this. Since every kid but one (who uses a hotspot) has Internet access - Heintz has experience leading things via the internet - they decided to do virtual rehearsals. “We had no idea how it would go!” she said. “They’re using Google Hangouts and trying Zoom today. We do rehearsals everyday from 2 to 4 pm. We started reading the scene, now we are doing in-depth conversations to breakdown character motivations, which is easy enough to do online.”</span></p><p><img src="" alt="" width="1000" height="671" /></p><p><span>Heintz had originally been using blocking sheets, but has since been put on hold since the date is being pushed back. But blocking the stage is less of a problem. Since The Crucible is so simple, said Chapman, they should be able to work with floor plan. “Several schools,” he noted, “are doing streaming theater. It’s still unclear about what our final production will look like. It’s looking like it’ll be a stage reading, or a radio play.” Coincidentally, Greenville puts on a retro radio show each fall. “It’s a live radio show on stage, with acting, sound effects, and singing,” explained Chapman. Therefore: “Our history of doing the radio show really helps set the stage for this option.”</span></p><p><img src="" alt="" width="2139" height="1426" /></p><p><span>Greenville originally did all sales in house (using a MI-based software). When Chapman saw that Ludus was based in Holland, MI, and connected to Kevin Schneider at HHS, “it was a no brainer. I’d heard lots of good reviews, too!” Since then, Greenville has been using Ludus for its online ticketing. “I love that Ludus was built for and supports public school programs, which you can see in the product” added Chapman.</span></p><p>To view their upcoming season and purchase tickets, visit their Ludus ticketing portal at <a draggable="false" href=""></a>.</p>
Aspen High School: Ready, Set, Go
<p><i><span style="font-weight: 400;">Note: This is a “Life during COVID-19” story. Please read the inspiring message.</span></i></p><p><i><span style="font-weight: 400;">A story that is all too common this spring, Aspen High School Theatre was hours from opening, when their show was canceled and schools closed. Losing the experience for students and directors is bad enough, but the financial loss could have been devastating. Using Ludus, AHS was able to salvage at least some of that money through the generosity of an incredible community.</span></i></p><p><img src="" alt="" width="598" height="798" /></p><p>Logan Carter has always been a self-starter. “I started here in 2013,” she said, of her current position as stage and theatre specialist at Aspen’s High School (AHS) and Middle School (AMS). Since her arrival, she’s made several changes - not the least of which was re-casting the school’s theatre program as a business. “It is unlike most school theatre programs in our area,” she said. “My goal has been to bring a professional theatrical experience to match the space of the school’s 550-seat auditorium.” While almost 20 years old, “it’s the most equipped theater between Denver and Salt Lake City, she boasted. “It has fly space, too. Lots of professional companies and ballet companies perform in the space.”</p><p>As part of her “business” plan, Carter works with a mix of professional designers, school employees and volunteers (“usually parents”). Aspen HS is an IB school and it can be hard to get students to get involved with theatre.  “We hire out scenic, lighting and costume designers for each show. We bring in professionals as mentors without letting them run the show. This, “she said, “has helped the quality of the shows, while still letting students learn more specifics about theater under the guidance of professionals.” For example, last year’s production Peter Pan had 75 actors in the cast, plus 12 members in the crew. “Plus pit,” she added, “some of which were professionals.”</p><p><img src="" alt="" width="1064" height="798" /></p><p>However, hiring professionals costs more. “I work hard to build the budget," said Carter. "Ticket sales generally cover about half of the budget for the show, with the remainder covered by fundraisers.”</p><p>A Denver native, Carter pursued a theatrical career first as a child, then as a student at Chicago’s DePaul University, where she received a BFA in Acting from the Theatre School. After moving to Los Angeles, where she studied at the Lesly Kahn Studio, and began teaching acting at the Performing Arts Workshop for children in Redondo Beach, she returned to the Centennial State in 2007.</p><p>Before joining AHS and AMS, Carter spent time in nearby Carbondale, where she taught Speech and Drama at Carbondale Middle School. She also founded Stage of Life (SoL) Theatre Company, a not-for-profit children’s theatre company, in 2012. In the past, she thought about returning to Denver or Chicago to do more theater, “but something in Aspen would always come up that would keep me here,” she laughed. “It’s a ski town. But even though it’s small and doesn’t have a lot of art happenings going on, it's definitely a community that values the arts.”</p><p><img src="" alt="" width="1064" height="798" /></p><p>AHS/AMS puts on two shows each year. “The fall show is usually a play. It's smaller in scale; a class puts it together and does everything.” Spring, on the other hand, is a big musical, selected for the strengths of the students. “It’s cool to not only see students that keep participating year to year, but new-comers, too,” she noted. “Students have to learn a song from the upcoming show, and a monologue, (if they want a lead).” Then there are callbacks: “They learn a dance, do a cold reading and sing.”</p><p><img src="" alt="" width="598" height="798" /></p><p>But in 2020, unforeseen events have overtaken the program. First, a fight over proprietary rights almost derailed the fall show. “The author’s attorney said they couldn’t do it, so the students wrote a new show and went with that.” Then, with the threat of coronavirus, the spring musical, <i>Guys and Dolls,</i> was cancelled within hours before opening. Up until that point, things had been going well, Carter reminisced. “Theater is meant to put on a show. You spend months of time and money putting on a show for 1 weekend of performances to finally feel the success.”</p><p>Unless that doesn’t happen. The experience of COVID-19 is teaching everyone a new perspective. For the theatre students of AHS/AMS, “It’s not about the applause or the performance,” Carter concluded. Right before announcing the cancellation, Carter told the Guys and Dolls production that “the show was still a success, because they still worked hard and grew. Even though they didn’t get to perform, it didn’t mean everything was in vain. It’s about the process and journey and what’s learned.”</p><p><img src="" alt="" width="1064" height="798" /></p><p>One of the most inspiring parts of this story took place off stage, in the community of Aspen. When the spring musical was canceled as a precaution against COVID-19, like so many shows across the country, the community responded by donating the cost of their tickets (instead of getting a refund) to help the production recover its costs.  Whereas it may not sound like a large donation, just the price of a ticket, 15% of ticket buyers donating their ticket costs back to the program provides some major relief. Not only does it show that the AHS community supports the arts, but want to see it continue long after schools return to business.</p><p>Ludus was there to help when things suddenly got crazy.  Both transactions, facilitating donations and refunds, were handled by Ludus, which has been AHS’ ticketing agent for the past three years. “The best thing about Ludus is how quickly Ludus responds (even if it’s the day of the performance),” said Carter, noting, “It was really stressful to communicate the cancellation with everyone. I shot them a quick message, and Zack immediately answered and helped.”</p><p><img src="" alt="" width="598" height="798" /></p><p>Carter had found Ludus through peer recommendations. "Everything I’d used in the past was glitchy and had problems, which made it really hard to direct. I wanted something easy and fair. Ludus,” she said, is “always friendly, and kind, and willing to walk through (even simple things). I love having actual people to count on.”</p><p>Though this year was not how Logan Carter had planned it, she truly adores her current group of students and is so grateful she has them. “They’ve bounced back from every one of these setbacks. They’ve taken each thing and have turned it into a positive.” And it is with a positive outlook that she looks forward to next year!</p><p>To purchase tickets for their upcoming productions, check out Aspen High School's Ludus ticketing portal at: <a href=""></a></p><p><img src="" alt="" width="1064" height="798" /></p>
William H. Tunnicliff Auditorium: The Elements of Collage
<p><span>Every performer dreams of a state-of-the-art space that helps them achieve their best.</span></p><p><span>But how many have stepped onto a stage that has served generations of artists, who felt their hopes and dreams rising with the curtain? Or had teachers who encouraged not only talent but the potential for talent? Or had peers who were there to lift them up?</span></p><p><span>Such is the position of Flushing Community Schools, where the 650-seat William H. Tunnicliff Auditorium has helped talent thrive for the past two decades. “The William H. Tunnicliff Auditorium was opened in June 2000,” said Alison Clemens, who became Auditorium Manager three years ago.</span></p><p><img src="" alt="" width="4000" height="2671" /></p><p><span>Even so, Tunnicliff sees a lot of use. “The Auditorium is used by the entire district,” said Clemens. “It is used by the High and Middle School Theatre and Music programs, Elementary School music programs, spelling bees, talent shows, assemblies and district meetings. When not accommodating school functions, Tunnicliff has been rented to special events, dance studios and even some bodybuilding shows. (The latter are national qualifiers and sanctioned by the National Physique Committee.) “The Flushing Concert in the Park series uses our space as a rain location during the summer,” said Clemens, adding. “We even brought in a show from a neighboring district when they were forced from their space at the last minute.” </span></p><p><span>In addition to this busy schedule, Tunnicliff Auditorium is the home of the annual Holiday Collage Concert that originated when Mike Hamilton, Clemens’ predecessor was the auditorium manager, and is put on by the high school music department for the Flushing Community. In fact, the first Collage concert was performed in 2000-2001 school year, “right after the auditorium was opened. This upcoming school year 2020-2021 will see our 20th annual Holiday Collage Concert. Our annual Collage is one of the highlights of the holiday season and the biggest fundraiser for the Music program,” said Clemens.</span></p><p><img src="" alt="" width="986" height="666" /></p><p><span>“It’s truly a special gem that we have here in Flushing,” agrees Brad Davis, Flushing’s HS/Elementary Band Director.“Our annual Holiday College is a huge community event that features the band, choir and orchestra programs and sells out four consecutive performances every year.” </span></p><p><span>The program demands great attention from Music and Theatre staff, including Davis, Eric Fontan (MS/Elementary Band Director), Nate Degner (HS/MS Choir Director), Matt Forsleff (HS/MS/Elementary Orchestra Director); and Lynda Gibson (HS &amp; MS Musical/Theatre Director) and Stacey Daniels (HS Theatre Director). But it’s a labor of love since “our kids are some of the most talented kids we have had the chance to work with over,” said Daniels.</span></p><p><img src="" alt="" width="999" height="666" /></p><p><span>But living up to the Mike Hamilton legend is no easy task. A hands-on impresario, Hamilton was also influential in the design of Tunnicliff Auditorium. “It has a lot of the features found in more upscale and professional theatres,” noted Clemens. “The acoustics are nice, it has a catwalk and lighting design that allows for some creative effects, including LED washes.”</span></p><p><span>While the music and theatre responsibilities have been spun off her main duties, Clemens has expanded the Collage program into new disciplines. “I have tried to include more work from students outside the Music/Theatre program,” she said. “Last year, we began painting the windows for our Collage program (the work of the National Honor Art Society chapter in our school.) A student from our award-winning woodshop program made a custom table for our lobby.”</span></p><p><img src="" alt="" width="2000" height="1335" /></p><p><span>And “we began using Ludus online ticketing program for all of our high school paid events. It was recommended to our Choir director, Nate Degner, who is the mastermind and driving force behind the Collage concert. We liked that it was Michigan-based - and more user-friendly than our previous ticketing program. I like that people can purchase online, and we can opt for either passing on the fees or absorbing them (we do both depending on the show). I like that we only pay for credit card sales and when the students sell the tickets during lunch they can collect cash and email the tickets to the students. Navigating the website is easy for both administration and patrons.”</span></p><p><span>It also helps that “the customer service is exceptional. From the beginning, Zack was helpful and responsive to all of my questions and needs.”</span></p><p><img src="" alt="" width="986" height="666" /></p><p><span>What’s next for the Tunnicliff Auditorium? “It would be nice if we could upgrade our sound system,” said Clemens. “We have already had to replace some of our wireless body pack microphones due to the Verizon purchase of wireless frequencies. The music department wants a fly-in band shell and the theatre is wishing for a short throw projector to allow digital backdrops.” </span></p><p><span>Even so, “the theatre program recently purchased goborotors!” Clemens enthused. “The students are looking forward to playing around with them during our upcoming musical, Seussical. While both our sound board and our lighting board are older they still allow us to put up professional-looking shows.”</span></p><p>The Seussical production is currently postponed, but for updates and other upcoming productions, visit their Ludus ticketing portal at: <a href=""></a></p><p><img src="" alt="" width="4000" height="2671" /></p>

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