Wednesday, April 07, 2010

Florida State Thespian Festival

It’s that time of year again – the Florida State Thespian Festival. For the next 4 days the Straz Center and the Convention Center will be hosting 7200 young artists as they perform, compete, learn and participate in one of the largest theater festivals in the world.

This phenomenon has garnered so much attention that there has even been a movie made about it.

Being here and being a part of the Thespian Festival is something I have written about before. As a former Florida State Thespian, (go Troupe #334 – represent!) I have so many fond memories of this week. I try not to think about how many years have gone by since I hopped off the bus and onto the grounds of the Tampa Bay Performing Arts Center (as it was called back then) and performed in Festival Hall (now the Morsani Hall) and the Playhouse (now the Ferguson). I remember every show I saw, every class I took, every boy I flirted with just because they were from another school.

I remember being blown away by a production of Noises Off by Bolles High School. I remember falling in love with a production of Eleemosynary (a show I would later perform and direct, twice). I remember taking my first real improvisation workshop (I would later go on to perform for The Second City). And I remember stealing a kiss by the river with a boy whose name has drifted away.

It was always the best week of high school.

When you’re growing up, it’s so important to “fit in” and be accepted by your peers. I think I can speak to many of us in the arts that growing up, we never felt like we “fit in” anywhere. We were easy to spot in high school: We walked in small packs through the hallways hoping for safety in numbers. We ate in the corner of the cafeteria, if we ate in the cafeteria at all. Our hair changed colors, our clothes had copious numbers of safety pins, and our conversations were peppered with Monty Python references and snippets of songs. We represented the Island of Misfit Toys.

But once a year, we got to run away to Tampa. For those of us from small towns, it was mind blowing to walk amongst the skyscrapers and witness a “real” downtown. Everywhere we looked we saw ourselves. We met people who were just like us and we were all encouraged to be different. We were encouraged to celebrate our eccentricities, to embrace our strangeness, to channel our creativity. Florida State Thespians was our oasis. We could sing as loud as we wanted, perform stage combat in the street, wear matching t-shirts with our troupe number on them, sweat it out waiting to find out, would we super superior?

I cannot express how critical arts education and arts experiences were to my personal development and how important it will be to the development of this next generation of artists. The experiences they will have, the friendships they will make, the different ideas, mediums, and genres they will learn about will make them more rounded, more thoughtful people. It will make a difference. It can’t be taught in a classroom or out of a book. It is a visceral, mind-blowing, life-changing event. If you think I’m over stating it, come on down here and witness it for yourself.

To any Thespians who might be reading this, welcome. Enjoy yourselves, learn as much as you can and be 100% authentic in your skin. We are so happy to have you here and we hope that maybe someday you’ll come back and make this performing arts center your home. Take one of your free nights and see Godspell in the Jaeb or Jobsite Theater's Pericles in the Shimberg. There are Florida Thespian Alums in both casts and they'd be more than happy to talk to you after the show. And don’t do anything stupid while you’re here. Those of us who have been to Festival know all the tricks and all the hiding places and we’re watching. ;)

-Kari G.


Ned said...

This is beautiful, Kari.

Randy Habovsky said...