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More Than Just a Theater

Arts & Entertainment

by Karla Cordell

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Main lobby in the Francis Wilson Playhouse
Photo by Karla Cordell

Looking for an extra curriculum activity, or perhaps a life changing experience? Francis Wilson Playhouse located in Clearwater, FL may be the place that you have been looking for.

Lying in the beautiful city of Clearwater, for the past 85 years, is the building that used to be known as the “little theater of Clearwater.” Now referred to as the “Francis Wilson Playhouse,” this small Community Theater has the main purpose of providing artistic, cultural,and historical enrichment to its community. As noted by the current manager and member of the board of directors Gabrielle Snapp, “It’s all about the enrichment.”

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Theophil Syslo Photography
Public Domain Image

For inexperienced or experienced young actors volunteering in the Francis Wilson Playhouse, there is the chance to acquire knowledge in theater, as well as life experience. This could be the break an individual is waiting for to express him or herself, to participate with a community, or to add that extra set of skills to a resume. “This, for a lot of people, is a stepping stone on so many different levels,” a current volunteer named Michael Sporck shared.

This theater may be the gateway for fantastic achievements for any student. Michael, a Largo High School senior, stated that volunteering in the theater can teach you a lot more than anywhere else. Michael stated, “I learned so many different types of lessons from theater itself than what I would from school.” Michael is not necessarily referring to acting or dancing skills, but he is more specifically talking about people and business skills. “Theater allowed me to build confidence and it taught me how to better work with people,” Michael said.

For Michael, this has truly been a life changing experience, and he strongly encourages others to give theater a try. “Every kid should do at least one show,” he said. Furthermore he mentioned,  “You gain so much life experience, history and culture of a different time. Nowhere else you can get this type of experience.”

The volunteers of this community theater come from different levels of experience and backgrounds. Volunteers range from doctors and lawyers to kids of all ages. “These people have a regular job [or school] during the day and then they show up here and stay sometimes until midnight,” Gabrielle shared. But what is amazing about these individuals is the admirable passion they have for the theater craft. “Community theater actors are very passionate about what they do. They are always looking for ways to be in successful shows or to hound their skills,” Gabrielle added.

But being part of the theater is not an easy job; it certainly requires a lot of time and effort. “People would drive 2-3 hours in traffic for a 3 hour rehearsal,” Michael said. It takes a lot of money and work from volunteers to put up a successful show. The individuals in charge of managing this theater ensure that volunteers are happy, proud, and thoroughly committed. “We want people to come here and be really proud to be in one of our productions,” Gabrielle stated.

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Synchronized Chaos
Public Domain Image

The quality of the performance is evident, and they take pride in the work they do. Just because they are a community theater doesn’t mean they don’t care about the details and deliverance in their shows. Gabrielle said, “We don’t cut corners” when referring to the impressive, detailed scenery and props on stage. After enjoying one of the most recent shows, Les Miserables, a young lady from the audience shared, “I’ve been to many other performances in professional theaters and none of them were as amazing as this one; I am truly blown away.”

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Photographs of “Les Miserables” on display
Photo by Karla Cordell

The Francis Playhouse has nine shows a year, so that is nine different opportunities for a volunteer to shine. Each person interested in playing a part is required to audition every new show. Auditions, according to Gabrielle, are “very relaxed, [and are not in] an intimidating environment.” More importantly, everyone is welcome to audition,  “We have to have open auditions; anyone can come and audition to all of our shows, and then we choose the best,” Gabrielle said. For details on current auditions, click on  http://franciswilsonplayhouse.org/auditions/

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Developing Tomorrow
Public Domain Image

On the other hand, if acting is not your thing, there are a vast variety of roles that need to be filled in order to put on a remarkable show. A crew may help by dressing up the stage, collaborating with lighting, other special effects, and ushering. A show would not be thoroughly successful without the hardworking crew putting it together. “It’s not just the actors on the stage that are part of the family, it’s everyone on the crew that helps them to put the show on as well,” Gabrielle expressed.

However, if you are not able to volunteer, you are still welcome to appreciate the end result. Come out and enjoy one of the 9 plays during the year. As SPC students, we have a great advantage, which is a more affordable ticket than the general public. Adults pay $26 for musicals, but students of all ages can enjoy the show for only $15. Francis Wilson Playhouse “always has a discount for students of any age,” Gabrielle firmly stated. “I think you have a much nicer community if you are exposed to cultural enrichment of all kinds, and if you can make that more affordable for more people, then that is important.”

In addition to the extraordinary performances that can be enjoyed in this community theater, there is also a small but impressive art gallery that displays the work of local artists. This has been another way in which the Francis Wilson Playhouse remains true to its goal: community enrichment. This is a very valuable venue for many artists to get exposure, recognition and income. “We have a different artist every 6 weeks; I’m fully booked until the end of 2016,” Gabrielle said with great enthusiasm.

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The Francis Wilson Playhouse’s Exterior

The Francis Wilson Playhouse offers different opportunities for art or theater enthusiasts to be able to enjoy and collaborate with community enrichment. Gabrielle highlighted that “Community Theater is about storytelling at its best.” It provides entertainment that allows an individual to escape from responsibilities, everyday work duties and the dullness from routine. It is an opportunity to learn and grow together as a community. As Michael beautifully stated, the Francis Wilson Playhouse is “more than just a theater.”

 

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