A decade of theater
What started as a college project, has blossomed into a 10-year small business success for Michelle Hamstra of Fort Myers.
The Creative Theater Workshop will celebrate its 10th year anniversary Oct. 9, with the opening of the children’s theater production of “Flat Stanley” inside the Strauss Theater on Sanibel.
It’s no surprise Hamstra took on a life of theater, which started when she was a 14-year-old student helping direct a youth play in her school. From then on, she was hooked, which directly led into her college years, where she produced her first show at the ripe old age of 20 years old.
“It started out as just a college project, where I directed ‘Tom Sawyer’ for the Alliance of the Arts,” Hamstra said. “I picked that show, because I was able to use an old fence which blew down during Hurricane Charley and I used it as my scenery.
“But from then on, I said I would do one more, then one more. I’ve been doing that now for the last 10 years.”
Hamstra has been busy in that decade of running theater shows, with 35 total to the Creative Theater Workshop resume.
She has a variety of shows, as well, from as small as six characters in the “Charlie Brown” show, to the 80 actors/actresses in her production of “Wizard of Oz.”
Doing all musicals, Hamstra was able to combine her love of dancing, theater and singing onto her stage productions, to go along with her job as a dance and sign language teacher at Challenger School in Cape Coral.
“The Creative Theater Workshop is about educating kids,” Hamstra said. “We teach acting techniques, we have a voice instructor on hand and now have a choreographer. We teach dance class, and teach the kids how to audition for parts. But they don’t have to use these skills to act professionally, but they can use them for everyday life like going into a job interview and use them in speech class, as well.”
From 2012-14, more than 35 students from the Creative Theater Workshop have worked in professional theaters, such as Broadway Palm and Theater Zone.
With auditions, comes competition. Although cutting is a necessity during the audition process, it’s a process Hamstra doesn’t like doing.
“I don’t like turning away kids,” Hamstra said. “But unfortunately, there are only a certain amount of spots. But I love that all the kids have high morale and once the auditions end, the competition is over. Then they are a team.”
Hamstra worked the Creative Theater Workshop for eight years through the Alliance for the Arts. When her productions starting getting larger, she had shows at other bigger theaters.
But when the opportunity to move into the Strauss Theater on Sanibel presented itself, she jumped at it.
“The new theater space is just so wonderful,” Hamstra said. “There are three sides to the stage, so all the kids can be in the front at some point during the show. It’s an intimate setting and the audience will be able to see the facial expressions because they will be sitting so close. That allows the kids to work on their deeper acting.
“It will be both fun and challenging.”
“Flat Stanley” will open Oct. 9, and will mark the debut of Creative Theater Workshop in the Strauss Theater. It’s a relationship Hamstra hopes will continue for a long time.
“I am very content being here, I love the island and the laid back environment, hopefully we can continue producing kid’s theater here,” she added.
Through the 10 years of productions, Hamstra said the biggest challenge is fundraising. It costs approximately $7-9,000 to produce one show, which does not include her pay, which she has never had the first place.
The admission fees collected will be used to help finance the next show, as well. But it’s paying off.
In 2010, the Creative Theater went to the Junior Theater Festival for the first time and won the “Outstanding Achievement in Music” award, then won best “Student Direction and Choreography” in 2011.
Some other notable shows Hamstra has produced include “Beauty and the Beast,” “A Chorus Line,” “Cinderella” and “Tiny Thumbelina.”
The type of kids she looks for is the one who wants to be there. Adults are also part of the productions, depending on the show.
“I don’t have to have the most talented kids, but they need the desire,” Hamstra said. “They must be willing to get up in front of an audience and try.”
During rehearsals, practice means perfect, meaning moves are done over and over again.
“We practice it a million times, just to develop muscle memory,” Hamstra said. “Then it’s just second nature when they are up there on stage in front of an audience. Confidence is also very important. I have been told I have a unique gift of helping kids build their confidence and I do that through positive reinforcement.
“I just want to see growth, they don’t have to be a superstar.”
But the most important virtue Hamstra has carried with her and Creative Theater is the passion she has for it.
“I had multiple learning disabilities as a kid,” Hamstra said. “I still earned ‘A’s’, but it took me hours to what usually took other kids minutes to learn. I was very shy, too, I didn’t even want to call the pizza delivery guy. But when I was on stage, I could be someone else, be a different character.
“Ever since I was 14-years-old, I knew theater was my calling and passion.”
“Flat Stanley” will open Friday, Oct. 9, and play through Sunday, Oct. 11, at the Strauss Theater. Tickets can be purchased through the ticket window, or the day of the shows, if they are not sold out.