2018-04-16 / Spotlight News

Theater program nurtures kids’ potential as artists, thinkers and leaders

By Don Manley


Musical Theatre Intensive performing original choreography from “Matilda,” 2017. Musical Theatre Intensive performing original choreography from “Matilda,” 2017. Developing and burnishing theatrical abilities is only part of the payoff for Gulfshore Playhouse youth education program participants.

Interpersonal skills and self-confidence can also blossom, says Giovanna Upson of Naples, whose daughter Emma, 12, has taken part in the program for five years.

“Even though she’s at that age where kids are not secure as they will be later on in life, when she walks into Gulfshore she feels confident, she feels strong and it’s not necessarily tied to a role,” said Upson. “She’s been in enough productions that sometimes she has a big role and sometimes she’s cast as a lesser character. The whole experience is very enriching for her.”

Headquartered in downtown Naples, Gulfshore Playhouse offers professional regional theater productions at The Norris Center, on 8th Avenue South.


“Aladdin,” a 2017 production performed by Gulfshore Playhouse students. “Aladdin,” a 2017 production performed by Gulfshore Playhouse students. The after-school and summer programs are for children ages 6 through 18. Registration is underway for the summer session, which runs from early June to early August. There will be eight different opportunities for youths to immerse themselves in acting, singing, dancing and the other components of live theater.

Young people have the option of taking everything from one-week workshops in musical theater, acting and Shakespeare that end with a recital, to month-long programs that each culminate in a fully produced musical on Gulfshore’s stage.

Productions include “The Little Mermaid Jr.,” for students ages 6 to 14 and the Tony Award-winning musical “The Secret Garden,” for youths 13 to 18.

The Teen Conservatory summer program, which requires auditions, now closed, offers musical theater training. It will conclude with performances of the Tony Award-winning musical “The Secret Garden,” directed by Gulfshore’s associate artistic director Jeffrey Binder, who starred in Broadway productions of “The Lion King” and “Mary Poppins.”

Emma Upson, who will soon be 13, will take part in “The Secret Garden” as well as “The Little Mermaid Jr.” The North Naples Middle School seventh grader described a warm, welcoming community environment as being a major plus of Gulfshore’s programs.

“I’ve developed so many friends from the program and confidence,” she said. “Performing in front of a whole theater of people, it could be very stressful, but I’ve gotten so accustomed to doing it that now, in school and any other presentation that I participate in, it’s a lot easier because it’s less stressful.”

Children of all ages and experience levels are welcome, whether it’s a 6-year-old first-timer or an 18-year-old who aspires to a theater career, said Hester Kamin, Gulfshore’s director of education.

“The programs are very demanding,” she added. “They’re very interpersonally noncompetitive because it’s very important to us that the students develop a lot of confidence, and that they are very respectful with us and with each other, and that they learn the theater culture of lifting each other up and supporting each other and understanding that ensemble relationships really determine both the quality of the show itself and also their experience. So as well as learning to sing and dance and act, they’re really learning how to be theater people.”

Kamin said it’s also hoped that the youths gain a sense of their potential as artists, thinkers and leaders.

“And we hope that when they walk out of our programs, they’re going to know they have something that is blossoming inside of them and it’s their imagination, their ideas, their ability to have follow-through, their ability to work in a group, their ability to see both the small details and also the big picture, which we all have to do as actors knowing that we have our own part to play in a show, but we’re still part of something that’s bigger than us.”

Acting was an interest that 14-year-old Lyndi Floyd of Naples first explored last summer at Gulfshore and she also took part in the afterschool program. The eighth grader is gearing up for what the summer sessions will bring.

“I definitely have grown a lot with the professional help of Jeffrey Binder,” she said. “He’s taught everyone in the group a lot and Hester has helped too. She’s given us a lot of tips. With the classes, all the things they’re teaching are going to help us and are going to stick around for the long haul.”

Need-based scholarships are available. Registration opened April 1 and can be done at any city of Naples Parks and Recreation facility or online at apm.activecommunities.com/naplesrec/Home. For more information about Gulfshore Playhouse’s summer educational programs, visit gulfshoreplayhouse.org/star-academy-summer-2018/ or contact Hester Kamin at hkamin@gulfshoreplayhouse.org or 261-7529, ext. 207.

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