Coming home – Entertainment – Sarasota Herald-Tribune


Longtime observers of Florida Studio Theatre’s education programs and youth performances might have a sense of deja vu seeing some of the artists now running and teaching classes, workshops and shows.

Josh Ford, who rejoined the theater as director of education earlier this year, was reunited with two longtime friends and collaborators, Adam Ratner and Sam Mossler, who were in the group of young performers who created what is now known as the Kids Komedy Club in the late 1980s.

Ratner is the lead teaching artist and coordinator of the Young Playwrights Festival, and Mossler frequently acts at the theater, teaches playwriting and works as a teacher for the theater’s varied youth programs.

“Josh and Adam and I have been writing together since we were kids and we have a shorthand,” said Mossler, who started taking classes at the theater when he was nine.

Teaching artist Denee Lortz, another veteran of the education programs, first came to FST “as a little theater student at 5 years old. I found an artistic home where everyone talked about their feelings and was kind and empathetic.” She stayed in the programs year-round until she was 12 and her family moved to Georgia.

“I always felt very connected to the theater because of the people and experiences,” Lortz said. “I traveled around as an actress in New York and lived in Colorado but I knew I wanted to come back to Sarasota one day.”

She was hired for a teaching position with the summer camp for just three months, but after her contract ended, “I didn’t want to go anywhere and I became a staff member,” she said. That was three years ago.

All four said they have always been attracted to a philosophy established by the program’s creator, Kate Alexander, who designed classes that focused on expressing creativity and allowing for emotions rather than on acting skills.

“Having been gone for over 15 years, I was so relieved to see the bedrock was there, being open about our feelings. Being empathetic and being creative and celebrating creativity were the goals,” Ford said. “We know most of our students are not going to be professional actors. What they take away from FST is humanity.”

Alexander calls Ford and his colleagues “my artistic children” and said they helped her develop a program that focused on aesthetics rather than creating a hierarchy of little stars and supporting players.

“I just knew they could not be dressed up in little costumes, just pretending. They had to know truth on stage. They had to be able to express themselves and their emotions,” Alexander said.

That’s part of what kept so many students participating for years.

Having so many former students carrying on the same approach is “very moving to me,” she said. “It’s basically that I don’t have to tell them anything. I don’t have to explain. Everything is known.”

Ford came back after working several years at the Georgia Aquarium, where he was hired as an actor and then began to write public education material and became the organization’s director of entertainment.

His decision to return was prompted by a chance meeting with a former student, who invited Ford to his wedding. “I drove down and he was so effusive about the program and his experiences. It was one of the things that made me know I had to come back. To know that still existed and helped people find that joy for themselves was very encouraging.”

Lortz admitted to some trepidation when she returned as a teacher that she might face some “harsh reality” that the program wasn’t what she remembered.

“Things have changed as far as security — when and how the kids get picked up after classes — but the heart and truth and not telling children what art to make but instead asking questions and exploring answers hasn’t changed.”

Mossler returned in 2016 after attending Florida State University and then living in New York and Los Angeles for many years. “I couldn’t afford to live in New York. I got back into teaching in the summer camp, mostly writing classes and “some surprise visits for the acting classes.”

He said the programs had a “huge influence on me” because they moved him and got him thinking.

Ratner came back to the theater about 16 years ago as “the prodigal son from New York after doing my trials and tribulations there.” He came back to teach for a summer and when it ended, Alexander said she wanted to create a teaching artist position.

“One of the things that has been amazing is to see someone like Denee as a former student and seeing her growth and seeing her inspire new students. And Josh coming back. The things he’s bringing back, it feels like it’s a renaissance.”



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