By Torie Doll, University Communications and Marketing
The University of South Florida College of The Arts is piloting an outreach program to bring interactive music, theater and dance performances to students in Hillsborough County Public Schools – a reflection of USF’s commitment to community engagement.
One of Dean Chris Garvin’s top priorities is to remove any obstacles that prevent the community from accessing the performing arts. In line with that mission, the performances are not only free for the public schools, but held during their school hours. In addition, the USF student and faculty performers take their show on the road and perform at one of the participating schools, when possible, to eliminate the steep cost of renting buses. If the performers can’t travel and a school can’t afford transportation to the USF Tampa campus, subsidies are available through the dean’s office.
“Some kids never get to visit a museum, they can't afford the price of admission, or the ticket to the show. I have always believed that ‘you have to see it to be it’ and with this program we are taking action to make the arts accessible to everyone," Dean Garvin said. "We are inspiring the next generation of musicians, dancers, and artists, giving them a glimpse of what they can become.”
“There’s a lot of research that shows being involved in the arts helps students learn overall,” said Jenny Kokai, director of the USF School of Theatre and Dance. “Outreach is important because we can help foster empathy and creativity in these younger folks.”
Last fall, the School of Music’s iPad band, Touch, performed two concerts for a group of elementary school students. The first concert featured original hip-hop music and vocals by Kenrick Wagner, director of Commercial Music and Production, and the second concert featured jazz music and scat singing by Allyssa Jones, director of Vocal Ensembles.
During one of the concerts, a blind student in the audience began singing loud enough to catch the attention of the performers on stage, recounts David Williams, director of the School of Music. She was brought to the front of the stage, handed a microphone and then, “she sang with gusto,” said a tearful Williams. “It was a very special moment. That sort of thing doesn’t happen every day.”
Tracy Lisi, music supervisor for elementary school students in Hillsborough County Public Schools, coordinates the performances at USF, her alma mater. According to Lisi, students typically attend youth concerts held at concert halls, such as the Straz Center for the Performing Arts or Mahaffey Theater, but she thinks that having student performers in a university setting makes the experience more tangible. “It’s really cool that the students can step inside USF and see their future selves on stage,” Lisi said. “Some students may have never been to a college before, so now they can see a place they may end up regularly attending.”
The School of Theatre and Dance performed the Mexican Baroque play, “House of Desires,” for high school students. “Having the opportunity to perform the show in front of all those students was, and I can’t stress this enough, incredible,” said Alex Barba, cast member and USF theater arts student. “The packed crowd of excited, hyper-attentive students was eager to respond to even the tiniest detail of our performances, set transitions and the events of the plot, and that was an amazing gift.”
As the program continues to grow, the content of the performances will cater to what the attending students want to see and what can be incorporated into their curriculum. This spring, students from the next group of selected schools will be treated to a concert by Touch, featuring Jones and jazz choir vocalists; the Spring Dance Concert; and a rendition of the musical theater, “Little Women.” The audience will also expand to include students from the Children’s Home Network’s Kids Village Campus.