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Young talent discovered by Honors student producing play

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image Actors wrote their own scripts after being assigned their character and purpose. Photo Penny Fletcher

The concept was to gather a group of young people to write, produce, direct and perform a play for the public.

BY PENNY FLETCHER

On April 16 residents will get a chance to see the results of a unique idea being brought to life by young actors at the Firehouse Cultural Center in Ruskin.

It all started in November when Sacia Mullins, a 21-year-old senior at the University of South Florida, put forth an unusual prospectus for her senior thesis to the USF Honors College. The concept was to gather a group of young people to write, produce, direct and perform a play for the public.

She called her thesis “Just Us Dramatiques.” Rewriting well-known fairy tales and swapping characters from one to the other would be the basis of her theme.

Her concept was approved by the Honors College and Mullins then drafted a press release calling for participants. She also asked Deb Adams who maintains a large email list used by several South County organizations if she would post it for her. The combined effort brought forth a group of high schoolers interested in pursuing the performance arts.

The next thing that had to be accomplished was to get a place to rehearse and put on a play. She said she thought of the Firehouse Cultural Center in Ruskin right away because community leaders were trying to get new artists in all venues started there.

“They have been very helpful. They’ve let us use the facilities to get together and practice since we started,” Mullins said during a rehearsal March 30.

Because Mullins has a double major — drama and criminology, and a minor in psychology — she said she could have chosen just about any subject for her senior thesis.

“It could have been a scientific research project, or any number of things.”

But she has been interested in the performing arts her whole life, and said she imagined there were plenty of students who would share her interest and volunteer for the project.

She was right and a crew was assembled.

Mullins knew she wanted to do something with well-known fairy tales, and also that she wanted to mix up the characters but she let the participants write their own dialogue after a brainstorming meeting.

Mullins’ sister Meg, 16, volunteered to help and was made Sacia’s assistant and Creative Team.

“We decided on an overall theme and then they got into groups and wrote their parts. They kept everyone else in the group in mind when it came to who they wanted to play certain characters,” she said. “We had a monologue reading and after that everyone helped to cast the actors for the scenes they had written.”

The title is “Never Ever After,” and it is a collection of what the actors refer to as “twisted fairy tales.”

Alice in Candy Land is a combination of the story of Alice in Wonderland, Hansel and Gretel and the board game Candy Land.

Then there is a story mixing Rapunzel and Sleeping Beauty and a third based on Little Red Riding Hood, except instead of a wolf, it features a cowardly lion.

“We mixed up all the characters and just had fun with it,” Mullins said.

But while it may be fun, it is still a serious matter for the Honors College and will be graded.

“The senior thesis is a requirement for Honors,” Mullins said.

With her combination of various degrees, Mullins said she eventually plans to do some kind of work with drama therapy that could help at-risk kids avoid, or come out of, juvenile delinquency.

“The Firehouse [Cultural Center] volunteers have been extremely supportive,” she said.

The center has a volunteer board of 18 and a part-time staffer, Frances Hereford.

“We’re always looking for new things to provide for the community,” Hereford said in a telephone interview April 1. “We’ve had all kinds of events since we opened.”

The young actors are glad they have a good venue for practice and performance. All interviewed said they intended to study performance art in the future.

Olivia Beyers of Riverview, a 7th grade student at LLT Academy (Literacy Leadership and Technology charter school) said she has been singing and dancing for as long as she can remember. “My mom, Karen Johansen, saw the ad for actors in the paper and I knew right away I wanted to be a part of it,” she said.

The students began meeting the second week of January.

Samantha Powell, 14, of Apollo Beach, said her father’s interest in the arts is what got her started. Her first experience with performing was taking ballet classes at age three.

“My dad’s in the Air Force and he travels around a lot but he’s always been in plays,” she said.

Powell says her twin isn’t into performance art — she’s interested in sports.

“Our parents never insist we do the same things,” she said.

Other students taking part in the play are Natalie Ise, Isabelle Jordan, Julia Jordan, Lizzy Cameron, Chloe Crater and Nicole Zapata.

Because the Firehouse has been so helpful to the young actors, donations will be accepted the night of the performance, Mullins said. “The performance is free to anyone who wants to come see it,” she explained. “But we would like to see people give donations to the Firehouse Cultural Center so they can continue bringing things like this to the community.”

The performance will be April 16 at 7 p.m. at the center, 101 First Ave. N.E. (the old firehouse: one block east of U.S. 41 off Shell Point Road).

To find out more about the Firehouse Cultural Center visit http://www.firehouseculturalcenter.org, email info@firehouseculturalcenter.org or call (813) 645-7651.

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