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Curtains rise at the Firehouse Cultural Center

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image Mitch Traphagen Photo

Opening performance for center's first Artist-in-Residence on Saturday night.

By MITCH TRAPHAGEN

RUSKIN — The curtains, or more accurately, the bay doors, are rising on the Firehouse Cultural Center in Ruskin this week with performance artist Leland Faulkner, the center’s first Artist-in-Residence. The new cultural center has been coming to life since last year when the former Hillsborough County Fire Rescue building was donated by the county to the Ruskin Community Development Foundation.

Although work on the new public center is still ongoing, the inaugural Artist-in-Residence program, running from February 25 to March 2, will throw open the doors for up-close and personal access to the arts for everyone in South Hillsborough.
Faulkner’s residency will open with a public performance and post-performance “talk-back” at 7 p.m. on Saturday, Feb. 25.

“Expect a great performance in an unexpected place…the bays of a fire house!” said Sandy Council, RCDF president and chairperson of the Firehouse Cultural Center Advisory Board.

“Faulkner was highly recommended by area arts professionals who had seen him perform and interact in different settings with audiences of different ages,” said well-known area artist Dolores Coe. “The group considered a small number of artists who were suggested because of both the quality of their professional work and their ability and openness to interact with the community: teach, mentor or share in some way what they do. We thought a performer with his international background; the range of traditions, skills and approaches he draws on; his experience and interest in sharing skills and creative processes would be great.”

Faulkner is a performance artist offering a program designed for the whole family, ranging from mime to shadowgraphs. Through performances around the world, he is known as an artist magician and as a man of a thousand faces. At the Firehouse Cultural Center, his residency will offer participants the opportunity to learn from and work closely with the artist — an opportunity limited only by your imagination.

“First, we hope people will enjoy and be intrigued by Faulkner’s professional performance,” Coe continued. “His very contemporary performance based on traditional forms and illusion is unique and highly imaginative.”

Faulkner will conduct workshops beginning next week. The first workshop, entitled “Story Telling and Story Theater” takes place on Feb. 27 and 29 and is designed for adults and seniors.

The second workshop takes place during after-school hours on Feb. 27 and 29 and is designed for both adults and children and adult teams. It is entitled “Light Theatre and Shadow Play.”

The third workshop, entitled “Theater, Mime, Mask and Improvisation,” has two parts, the first of which carries a $5 materials fee. Organizers recommend that attendees “dress for a mess.” There are three available sessions for this workshop, all taking place on Feb. 28 and Mar. 1.

On Wednesday, February 29, at 7 p.m., Faulkner will host an “artist’s talk” and discussion session that is free and open to the public. The discussion will be held in the artist’s studio.

“We hope that the residency experience allows audiences and participants to get an up-close sense of the creative process at work,” Coe said. “It will be an opportunity to observe, work with and learn from a master performer in a very relaxed, informal atmosphere. As a performer Faulkner is working with tools we all mostly have —voice, body, shadow, movement, story, tradition — so the workshops allow all to jump in wherever you are. It’s a great time for beginners to try something new and gain confidence. It’s a real opportunity for young performers or for classes and groups to meet and have access to him. We invite educators, as well as experienced and professional performers, artists and writers to participate or join in where they can to work with Leland to experience his approach to creative performance and working with groups.”

Although work continues on converting the Hillsborough County fire station into a regional cultural center, organizers do not expect work to hamper the Artist-in-Residency program. According to Sandy Council, much of the work on the new facility is related to compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) standards and it is expected to be fully completed by May.

“The Tampa Bay area as a whole will benefit [from the new cultural center], but more specifically the families from the local area that can’t regularly travel to the larger institutions like the Straz Center or the other centers that are too far away [will benefit],” said Firehouse Cultural Center director Deon Blackwell. “We are offering quality events and programs for the people of this region. Close to home, close to the arts.”

This week will begin what can only be described as an exciting future for the Firehouse Cultural Center. Faulkner’s residency is merely opening the large bay doors of the firehouse to the entire region.

“The idea behind the Residency Program is to bring to the area significant artists, writers and performers from different disciplines to stay for an extended time, share their professional work and interact in some interesting and meaningful ways with the community” Coe said. “The plan is to develop the program into three or four seasonal residencies that last between one and four weeks, each with a different focus and guest. Under discussion for next fall and winter, for example, is hosting a Florida Writer-In-Residence, or Spoken Word Poet/Performer, a Photography or Filmmaker-In-Residence.”

According to Coe, full-time programming at the Firehouse will begin this summer  and will be a time earmarked for young people during the summer school break. Plans are in the works for weeklong themed camps and classes for teens and young school-age children, as well as special programs for families and pre-schoolers.

Already on the schedule is Boston puppet artist Sara Peattie as an Artist-in-Residence in July. Peattie will conduct “Giant Puppet Construction” workshops to create a public event with workshop participants.

“That will be an extraordinary experience and a great, fun, summer spectacle. She will also be doing a workshop session for educators at the Firehouse,” Coe said.

It all begins on Saturday with an inaugural opening performance by world-renowned artist Leland Faulkner. Faulkner and the many supporters and volunteers at the Firehouse Cultural Center invite everyone in through the bay doors of what was once a fire station to have a close, personal and even one-on-one encounter with the arts in ways that may well be life changing.

Faulkner will close out his residency on March 2 with a final performance that will include workshop participants, a talkback and sharing session, and a post-workshop celebration.

“The final Friday evening participants have the opportunity to perform together with Leland in a finale performance and celebration. It will be a fun and engaging experience in creating and performing with him,” Coe said.

Come to the Firehouse Cultural Center on Saturday evening to watch the enormous bay doors rise on a new era in South County arts and entertainment and prepare to lose yourself, for a short while at least, in the magic of an artist.

Tickets for the opening performance are $10 for adults and $5 for children. The doors will open at 6:30 p.m. and seating is limited. For a complete schedule of events during Faulkner’s Artist-in-Residency program, visit the Firehouse Cultural Center on the web at www.firehouseculturalcenter.org.

The Firehouse Cultural Center Winter Residency with Leland Faulkner is sponsored by the Southshore Arts Council, Target Stores and Walmart.  Residency accommodations are sponsored by the Mary & Martha House.

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