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Schoolhouse Theater to showcase children’s talent

By Staff | Aug 13, 2009

In a time when many schools when a rough economy is forcing many schools to slash art programs one local theater is helping budding Shakespeares have a chance to learn the stage.

The Herb Strauss Schoolhouse Theater on Sanibel will be putting on a production open to the community on Saturday, Aug. 15 at 2 p.m. Donations are being accepted for what is billed to be a fun, exhilarating show. The donations will benefit future children programs, according to Schoolhouse Theater staff. The performers – children from the Schoolhouse Theater Kids Camp – will be reciting poetry from Shel Silverstein’s “A Light in the Attic”. This is a sequel to last year’s “Where the Sidewalk Ends” a book of poetry also by Shel Silverstein.

Saturday’s show is a culmination of six weeks of work and rehearsals. said Samantha Rotella, director of the show and Schoolhouse Theater’s children’s program.

Patrons can expect to see the young performers reciting monologues and comedic poems, Rotella said. The young performers have chosen their own bright costumes for the show – a true must see.

The program which is free and supported by donations gives children with an artistic bent a chance to learn and sharpen their talents.

“These kids have expressed an interest in theater,” Rotella said.

Some children who started out shy have really found their place within the theater world. Rotella said she recalls two sisters who started in last year’s program and came back again this summer. They used to speak in whispers, Rotella said. Now they shine on stage.

“You wouldn’t believe how far they have come,” Rotella said.

Then of course there is Olivia Miller, a bright, expressive 11-year-old actress. Miller got her start three years ago when she signed up for the children’s program. At the time she was very shy and introverted – responding to staff with nods and shrugs.

She now takes command of a room filling it with smiles and chatter. Aside from Saturday’s performance in which she and the other seven cast members will do colorful monologues, Miller has performed in several recent Schoolhouse shows, including “Where the Girls Are” – a hail to female musical groups.

Olivia flashes a big smile as she talks about her work at the Schoolhouse Theater.

“It’s fun, it’s something I like to do,” Olivia said.

And what inspires this young starlet.

“Seeing the adult acts makes me want to do it more,” she said.

And this performance she gets to star with her brother Jacob, 14. Jacob who is a high functioning autistic teen enjoys himself on the set.

“It’s alot of fun working with him,” Olivia said. “He’s just really sweet and kind.”

Olivia and Jacob’s mother Beth is thrilled with how much the Schoolhouse has given a special meaning to both her children.

“We just think were very fortunate that they have that (the children’s program) there,” Beth Miller said. “The staff there is fabulous with the kids.”

Miller is especially happy to have a program available that meshes well with her son’s unique challenges.

“They embrace him,” she said. “It means the world to him. This program helps him with other kids.”

The Schoolhouse staff are elated over how much Jacob and all of their young thespians are blossoming this summer.

“It makes me feel really good,” Rotella said.

Victor Legarreta, the Schoolhouse Theater artistic director, is pleased to be able to provide quality theatrical education during the summer at no cost. During the year, the theater offers several $1,000 scholarships for at cost programs during the year.

“The biggest thing is to support the kids,” Legarreta said. “A lot of arts get cuts from the school. This is a good outlet to support it.”

The two-day a week summer program seems to be getting more fined tuned each year. Children who attend the program are looking for more than a fun place to hang out with friends and make paper plate crafts. Their parents are too. And with an uncertain economy parents and their children are being more focuses about finding outlets that help hone skills.

Billy Elliot, a Broadway show with children took a Tony award this year, underscoring children’s presence in the theatrical arena.

“Children in the arts is a serious thing,” Legarreta said.