Live arts on a budget
The Asolo Repertory theater Exterior. Photo by Alexandra Levy.

Live arts on a budget

The arts foster a community where individuals can express themselves creatively,  a necessity now more than ever in a politically turbulent Florida. It is crucial to support local theaters and art because they cultivate new perspectives and empathy toward lives completely different from one’s own. However, access to the arts can be quite limited on a student budget. The Catalyst researched local productions and museums in the Sarasota area where students can support the arts without breaking the bank. 


The Asolo Repertory theater, in partnership with Florida State University (FSU) Asolo Conservatory for Actor Training, is putting on a performance of William Shakespeare’s comedy A Midsummer’s Night Dream. The production is public and will be available from Oct. 2 until Dec. 10 at different outdoor venues around Sarasota from free to $5, depending on the location. This production is adapted and directed by drama teacher Gaby Rodriguez from Houston, Texas. In a video from the Asolo Repertory theater’s Youtube page, Rodriguez broke down her director’s take on her 50-minute adaption of the show. 

“So what I’ve done as an adapter is taken the story, the three main storylines of the show, and picked which ones are essential to our frame,” Rodriguez said. “Our Midsummer Night’s Dream takes place in the midsummer festival and this frame is based on the Elizabethan England tradition that during Midsummer day there used to be a festival and they believe that fairies invaded and caused mischief. So [in] our production instead of the lovers going into the forest, the fairies are coming into the human world and causing chaos. I think what is so phenomenal about Shakespeare and what excites me about Shakespeare is that when he wrote these plays he wrote them for the people and it was always meant to be performed outdoors and it was meant to be performed for a big crowd.” 

A Midsummer Summer Night’s Dream takes place in a forest where fairies and revenge plots run wild. It’s full of love and lust, marriage and magic. “What fools these mortals be” to not attend the show. Tickets can be bought here

The Gothic Library

In the Halloween spirit, The Gothic Library, a local theater and radio production, is presenting a live radio theater production of Bram Stoker’s 1897 novel Dracula at Bookstore 1 Sarasota. The program will run  Oct. 13 to Oct. 15 from 8:00 p.m. to 9:30 p.m. Tickets are $20 and live actors, as well as sound effects, will turn the wholesome bookstore into the bloody world of Transylvannia. The performance is adapted and directed by Ren Pearson, alumnus from Ringling College of Art and Design (RCAD) and artistic director of The Gothic Library. Pearson shared his unique twist on the classic horror novel. 

“One of our best twists is in our casting,” Pearson said. “I auditioned for the part [of Dracula] completely gender blind. I found my Dracula in a local actress, Aden Russell. After casting her, I scraped the entire script and started from scratch. I took what I felt was the best of Stoker’s work, but adapted it for a Dracula that was not just played by a female, but a Dracula who was, in fact, female. The Count was now the Countess.

“We’ve also added a healthy dollop of gallows humor, BDSM, Grindhouse and Old Hollywood Western Film influence,” Pearson continued. “Early on, we knew we had to say goodbye to subtlety in this adaptation. Even now in rehearsals, I encourage my performers to embrace the cheese in this production. Be loud, be horny, be horrified, be big! If nothing else, have fun with the production, and the audience will have fun too.” 

Pearson’s production is lightly costumed and meant to ignite imagination. “We provide the details we can with sound effects such as ambience and other cues, but it is truly a marriage between the audience and the performers.” 

Though Pearson studied film, he explains how in live theater, the story does not end at the edge of the frame. “In theaters, the reality extends as far as your imagination will allow it. There’s also a different kind of energy when performers occupy the same space as you. Live performance touches the soul, in a way that other media cannot. The best kind of theater not only entertains, but also encourages empathy. Live theater can challenge as well as change.” 

The gothic production entails one’s descent into madness, love and violence and good vs. evil. The show does contain gore, sexual content and graphic violence that could be intense for some audience members. If one arrives early at 7:30 p.m., there will be refreshments as well as a chance to touch and observe the weapons and tools used in the show. Tickets can be purchased here

Ringling Museum

To lighten the mood, the John and Mable Ringling Museum offers an event entitled Ringling Underground, where on the first Thursday of every month, live music is played at the Ringling Mansion gardens. The venue is free for students and is the perfect way to be exposed to local bands. Upcoming dates include Nov. 2, Jan. 11, Feb. 8, March 7, April 4 and May 2. Featured bands from the Oct. 5 date included Movie Props, a percussive instrument heavy band from Englewood, Neverless, an up-beat alternative rock band from the Sarasota area, Noan Partly, a midwestern style singer/songwriter from Tampa, Pilot Jonezz from St. Pete and Plastic City Robots from Miami. 

Partly shares what inspires her to make music and how live music creates a universal experience that brings strangers together. “I’ve been writing since I was 14, when I first started playing guitar,” Partly said. “I’m usually most inspired by my sense of existential dread, the questions we ask ourselves that may or may not have actual answers. So we make up our own answers to placate us. I usually just call [my music] indie folk. A hodgepodge of all the different genres I like, psychedelia, bluegrass, r&b…what have you.

“I love performing because of the state of presence it drops you in, the moment to moment feeling of connection to yourself and the music and the audience simultaneously,” Partly continued. “As an audience member, live music has the power to vibrate you to your core, it’s effective in a way that recorded music isn’t. You’re immersed physically in the sound waves and that can be healing in a lot of ways.”

Partly was excited to play at the most recent Ringling Underground. “I often play solo but at the Ringling, we’ll be a quartet. That is my favorite way to play, each individual instrument creates its own color. All my bandmates have their own styles of playing so together we’re a colorful bunch.”

The two-piece band Movie Props, consisting of Christian Kovar and Rick Lombana, discussed their inspiration and passion for making music accessible to anyone. “A description of our music could be something that is ambient and calm to brutish and chaotic, often in the same piece of music. There are highs and lows, smoothly flowing transitions and then hard stops to unforeseen changes, just like in life,” Kover stated.

“We feel inspired to write when discovering different ways of crafting music between the two of us, but more broadly from all of the incredible artists that have existed and exist to move and inspire us through the creation and sound of their art,” Kover stated. “Anything that can emotionally or mentally connect people in a positive or insightful way is reason enough to support artists.” 

The duo emphasized the utter importance of supporting local musicians. “Supporting local artists is where everything starts. With such an insurgence of artists releasing and controlling their own music now, it’s so important to support and follow their works to maintain the livelihood of this process. No filtering, censoring, overproducing or contorting someone’s vision for some monetary agenda.” The band will be dropping an extended play (EP) in December and they currently have an EP out now entitled AIR Jonezz. 
The right wing of the art museum is also open during the Ringling Underground. Works in this wing include five life-size paintings by Peter Paul Rubens and 16th century wax portraits. Tickets are not needed in advance. Simply enter the museum by showing one’s student ID.

The Ringling Underground from Sept first. Photo by Alexandra Levy.

The 1901 Anton Chekhov drama, Three Sisters, will be performed at the Asolo Repertory theater from Oct. 25 to Nov. 19. Student prices are $22, however there is a pay what you can option. The play, directed by Andrei Malaev-Babel, the head of acting at the FSU/Asolo Conservatory as well as professor of acting at New College since 2007, and has an MFA for Directing from the Vakhtangov theater Institute follows the Prozorov sisters as they dream of returning home to Moscow, but in true Chekhov fashion, are doomed to a life of poverty and misfortune. Babel shares how the common individual can relate to a Chekov play. 

“Chekov’s writing is universal,” Babel shared. “They do not belong to any particular time and they do not belong to any particular nation, which is why Chekhov survives. Some hundred something years later, Chekhov is still the most produced playwright after Shakespeare. So that, that means that he certainly wrote plays that are completely universal. 

Babel incorporates a very unique directing style from the Nikolai Dimidov School of Acting, an organic approach that allows actors to fully embrace their creativity with little guidance from the director. Babel says that he does not even block the actors. “My main job is to inspire and facilitate the creative process, not boss them around.” Babel voiced the necessity of supporting theater in local communities. 

“Sarasota is a serious cultural center. FSU Asolo Conservatory is one of the 10 leading in the nation, 25 leading in the world, actually. We are doing something that is highly artistic and at a very high level of expertise in the faculty and in terms of caliber of students,” Babel said. “You’re also supporting your own education, your own growth and development by going to the theater, seeing live art. When you come to the theater, you become a co-creator of this production as an audience member, just as the actors are.”
This season for the conservatory is dedicated to celebrating the 50th anniversary of the conservatory moving to Sarasota. The production consists of graduate students, alumni, current faculty and local actors. Babel says that what inspires him as a director in this production is the collaboration between multiple facets of the theater world on one stage. Tickets can be bought here.

Pre-production photo courtesy of Andrei Malaev-Babel. From left to right: Ayda Ozdoganlar, DeAnna Wright and Catherine Luciani. Photo taken by Frank Atura.

The Sarasota Art Museum, open Monday through Saturday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Sunday  11 a.m. to 5 p.m., is free with a student ID via the Cross College Alliance program. The museum provides an array of unique exhibitions that introduce audiences to ephemeral installation art. 

Chakaia Booker, a 70-year-old sculptor from New Jersey, created innovative sculptures made out of recycled materials for her art installation entitled Surface Pressure, available until Oct. 29. Booker is a world renowned sculptor with pieces in more than 40 collections across four continents and is a 2005 recipient of the Guggenheim Fellowship. This installation contains an array of sculptures, prints and paintings created from recycled tires, metals and paper from her extensive career.

Juana Valdez, a 30-year-old artist who works and lives in New York and Miami, brings her roots to life in an exhibition entitled Embodied Memories, Ancestral Histories. The mixed-media art installation, available from Oct. 22 to Feb. 11, introduces audiences to the history of migration, her African and Cuban ancestry and the legacy of colonialism, especially for women of color. From a burlap suit created by Valdez’s mother, to ceramics and redbone china flags, this emotional exhibition exposes audience members to stories based on her vulnerable personal experiences and heritage. 
The arts provide outlets for individuals to express their voices that are otherwise ignored or not known in society. They are an escape for audience members, an opportunity for total strangers  to be transported to new places and introduced to new people or characters from all walks of life. They connect humanity through raw emotions that audience members experience together at the same time. The Catalyst encourages students to support local artists in the area to discover new stories and the hidden beauty of being human.

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