Live Oak Theatre: Teaching Performance with the Ties that Bind

Caitlin Frostman is 18. Her goal is to be an actress and singer on Broadway, after graduating college and moving to New York City. She began acting lessons at thirteen years of age, attending her first summer theatre camp in 2010 at Nature Coast High School.

Since 2013, Caitlin has attended Live Oak Theatre Summer Camps and enjoyed being a part of each of its productions. “At Live Oak Theatre, I have been taught the skills I really need to get into the acting business: audition skills, headshots, resume, and scene prep. I wasn’t taught these skills elsewhere,” Catilin shared about her experience with this community theatre operating in Brooksville since 2009.

Live Oak Theatre’s Wizard of Oz production was of professional quality in costuming, acting and sets. Volunteers and students work together to create family friendly shows twice a year, with summer camp as a time to hone their craft.

“My favorite role was playing the Wicked Witch of the West in the Spring production of The Wizard of Oz because it stretched me. I was painted green and it was fun to play a “bad person” until I saw actual children being scared,” says the sensitive young adult who has been in a myriad of roles throughout the four years she has been a part of LOT.

Randi Olsen knew Vince Vanni from a previous theatre company he operated in Spring Hill. “We had so much camaraderie from working together that when I was ready to move forward on a family-friendly theatre company and school, I knew Vince had to be a part of it! We began with an original production: Anne of Avonlea, which I co-wrote with Ellen and David Sanborn.”

Randi has been performing since the age of 2.  She began acting in children’s musicals in a friend’s church. She attended University of Tampa, majoring in Vocal Performance and Music Education. After graduating, Randi moved to New York, and was accepted to NYU’s musical theatre writing program. She had fallen in love, however, and married her sweetheart, moving back to Florida.

Randi Olson teaches at the Summer Camp and has a passion to bring family-friendly theatre to the Nature Coast.

Through lots of theatre experiences, Randi Olson saw a need for family-friendly shows, “I wanted to be able to act in a show on Saturday night and then wake up the next morning, comfortable to teach Sunday School.”

The Live Oak Theatre is a nonprofit organization, having started under the YWAM* 501(c)3 and achieving its own nonprofit status recently. Summer camps and theatrical productions are held in the Faith Evangelical Presbyterian Church, 200 Mt Fair Ave in Brooksville.

Stephanie Sager is one of the many volunteers who teach students the ins and outs of theatre. Stephanie specializes in music.

There is a professionalism in this all volunteer camp’s classes that stands out. Theatre students are separated into age appropriate groups and rotate through subjects such as dance, auditions, stage craft, stage movement, acting, and music. 2017 is the eighth camp with over 100 students involved, with ages ranging from 8 to 18.

“There is a focus on mentoring here, with adults mentoring the younger students,” Kyle Marra explains to me. Kyle is a full-time teacher, who is also a professional actor who has appeared in several independent films and travelled the world. He was raised in Brooksville and got involved with LOT through a friend. “It’s like a big family, working with this group.”

In casual classrooms, students act Shakespeare’s words.

At the 14-18 year-old group’s scene craft class, Shakespeare scenes are being practiced with full characterization by small groups of 2-3 students with scripts. Teachers are giving the students kudos for speaking as the character they are reading. “That is good,” Vince Vanni compliments the aspiring actor, “because you are not just reading the lines. I can hear you acting them as a father would.”

Vince Vanni, one of the Live Oak Theatre’s founders compliments his young charges on their acting of Shakespeare instead of reading lines from a page.

Iliana Fotopoulos, 10, is attending her first Live Oak Theatre Summer Camp with her sister Angelina, 13. “I came to (the production of) Peter Pan and wanted to be a part of this,” she shares with me.

“My mom says I am a born comedienne. I love to act and want to be an actress. Although I have been to many theatre and dance camps, this one is different. It is more fun, with nice teachers and so many nice people. I have lots of friends here now.”

Iliana’s favorite actor is Johnny Depp because of his funny character portrayals. Her advice for aspiring thespians; “Take whatever part the director gives you and give it your all.”

In the dance class, Andi Garner enthusiastically shows the students how to perform dance moves while explaining that very few dancers will get every move perfectly but by spacing themselves properly, everything looks to be coordinated and the public is unlikely to notice. Iliana and several other students take turns in small groups performing dance moves while the others watch, rotating small groups to keep everyone involved.

Performing Arts Classes are taught by multiple volunteers today. Stephanie Sager shows students how to stand properly, holding their posture to keep the lungs open for singing. Kevan Richards teaches the students how to pretend to hit each other and make the sounds without actual contact, just like in the movies. Pairs get on stage and practice a face slap while the other students encourage them.

Kevan Richards teaches the students how to pretend to hit each other and make the sounds without actual contact, just like in the movies.

Kevan is a father of four students, and an actor who loves the family experience that Live Oak Theatre offers. Kevan and his wife, Lisa, attended theatre school in Iowa before moving to Ridge Manor. They were involved in YWAM, and a friend told them about LOT. The family got involved in the Spring of 2014 with the production of “The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe” as an original production, written by Randi and Jessica.

In Peter Pan, Kevin played Captain Hook, while each of his children played a role including Wendy, Michael, Tinkerbell and John. “Theatre has to be a passion. It is one of our family’s priorities. If you love theatre, Live Oak is the place to come. It has benefited our children by providing amazing friends, a safe, positive place to gather and a wonderful way to use their talents and gifts. In fact, it is a great way to communicate and be a positive influence in society.”

That is what the Live Oak Theatre strives to do.

The Live Oak Theatre is an all volunteer group of theatre enthusiasts, working together to teach and mentor a family-friendly environment where talent can shine. Contact them to today for more information on how you can get involved.

Live Oak Theatre’s season consists of a fall and spring musical production and a special Christmas celebration. Season tickets for the 2017-2018 season will go on sale sometime in July and productions will be announced.

More information on the Live Oak Theatre can be found on their website, http://liveoaktheatre.org or their Facebook page, https://www.facebook.com/LiveOakTheatre/ and their NatureCoaster directory listing at https://www.naturecoaster.com/business-directory/live-oak-theatre-company/.

*YWAM is Youth With A Mission, an evangelical interdenominational, non-profit Christian, missionary organization.