By John Thomason
By Benjy Caplan
By Artburst Miami
By Carlos Suarez De Jesus
By Daniel Reskin
When I lived in New York and London, I believed that residing in any other location meant falling off the end of the world. During my past half-decade in Miami, I've been humbled. Having seen some great local theater and made many witty, enlightened friends, I now see how narrow my vision of the world once was. But I stumbled into the same arrogant pattern again recently when I was invited by David Spangler -- an excellent South Florida director and ex-artistic head of the Drama Center in Deerfield Beach -- to attend a special three-week theater training program for students ages thirteen to nineteen from all over the world. During the course time, students write, produce, and star in their own original musical. The catch? The program, called the Lovewell Institute for the Creative Arts, takes place in Salina, Kansas.
Go to Salina, Kansas, I thought? Will Toto come, too? Is there a library there and can people use it?
Of the 47 students, I knew that several originated from New World, Dillard High School, and Broward Community College, so at least I wouldn't be alone in the land of combines, cattle, and lately, of busted levees. Therefore I consented to go and see. What I did not know was that Lovewell is the most progressive program ever offered to train young people in the art of theater and in the art of getting along with other people in theater. Further, the town of Salina supports the program totally, censors nothing, and encourages development and exploration in the arts. During my too-brief stay, I met some of the most interesting folks I've ever encountered; witnessed the Lovewell students write, revise, and craft highly imaginative stage concepts; enjoyed hospitality of an almost saintly nature; and received the two biggest thrills of my life: no one locked their doors, and no one honked their horns. It's possible, I concluded, to be creative and progressive and kind all at the same time.
Approximately half of the student body receives a scholarship to cover the nearly $1000 cost (including airfare, meals, and lessons). Within the intense working period, in which days typically run from 8:00 a.m. to midnight, students learn about acting, staging, writing, and collaboration by becoming immersed in the process. The hands-on experience culminates in two weekend performances, heartily attended by the Salinans.
With the help of seventeen staff members, many from South Florida, Spangler (originally a native of Salina) turns wanna-be's into working professionals. "Lovewell made theater a part of my soul," said one seventeen-year-old, who has come to Kansas from Miami two summers in a row.
Students benefit in numerous practical ways, not the least being that Spangler brings in heavyweight guests to advise them. This year celebrated composer Stephen Schwartz (Godspell, Pippin) and Fifi Oscard, one of the top New York talent agents, came to the August 6 and 7 performances and answered questions from the eager apprentices.
"I considered creativity to be an endangered state of mind and decided someone had to encourage it among young people, to not be afraid of it," Spangler said, explaining why he founded Lovewell four years ago. Fortunately, the town of Salina agreed, and donated local theater space and subsidized dormitory housing.
If you have a child who might benefit from the Lovewell program, contact David Spangler at 565-5113 and leave a message.