Faces Behind Florida Studio Theater Share Common Passion for Drama | Arts and entertainment



It takes a lot of hands to juggle a five-theater campus that welcomes over 200,000 annual visitors.

The Florida Studio Theater is the third largest subscription theater in the United States, but its internal staff includes 50 full-time employees.

So how do they do it? Passion.

Actor Dane Becker, improvisation and coach Elise Rodriguez and twin set designers Moriah and Isabel Curley-Clay are just a few of the people behind the theatrical machine that is FST, and they keep coming back for more. more.

The hometown boy

Dane Becker can’t stay away from the theater. Seriously.

“Believe me, I tried to do something else, but I love this stupid, stupid industry,” he laughs. “It’s an outlet for expression, and it’s what I feel most comfortable doing.”

Becker, who describes himself as a “big kid of the theater,” moved to Bradenton from Long Island at the age of 16. At first, he wasn’t sure if he would find the kind of theatrical opportunities he had growing up outside of New York City. But as a student at Lakewood Ranch High School in 2010, he immersed himself in the local theatrical scene playing Lieutenant Cable in “South Pacific” at the Manatee Performing Arts Center.

“I didn’t understand how much there was… The amount of theater here is so unique.”

Dane Becker also starred in FST’s “Inspired Lunancy” and “Older Than Dirt”. Courtesy photo

After graduating, Becker studied musical theater at the Cincinnati Conservatory of Music. After graduation, he got his first FST role as Link Larkin in the company’s 2014 production of “Hairspray”, kicking off what would become a deep appreciation for the variety of shows. and FST’s educational approach for its students and professionals.

“It’s a great educational institution – I’m always learning something,” he says. “It’s a great and safe place to learn and grow. “

Now, after spending the past two and a half years working in Los Angeles, Becker says he’s thrilled to be back home for his most recent role on FST on the nightclub “Shakespeare’s Greatest Hits”.

This is her third show in conjunction with Artistic Director and CEO Richard Hopkins and General Manager Rebecca Hopkins (who co-wrote the show). They are good people, he says, and they’re not always easy to find in his industry.

Dane Becker stars in “Shakespeare’s Greatest Hits” until June 10th. Courtesy photo

“They don’t have ego,” says Becker. “I think they really care about the people and the product they are offering.”

It’s the collaborative nature of the Hopkins that excites Becker the most. He rarely works with directors who will accept suggestions, especially for a show they wrote, but much of the results on the Cabaret de la Cour stage have come from the organic actor-director dialogue.

But this show is more than a collaborative ironic musical review of Shakespeare-inspired songs. For Becker, it’s a chance to do something that almost makes him cry just thinking about it.

“Being able to sing my parents’ wedding song (” Somewhere “from” West Side Story “) in front of them is the best part.”

The girl who does it all

Elise Rodriguez can be called a lot of things: lawyer, coach, improviser, teacher, mother dog… and in a way she finds time for everything.

“When I became a lawyer, I knew from the start that this was not my life’s work, but it took me having a law firm and employees to realize that something was missing” , she says. “I needed creativity.

Rodriguez found the creative space she dreamed of during her first improv class in her hometown of Miami. She had secretly always wanted to be an actress and she thrived in the inclusive, fast-paced, team-oriented environment of comedy. It didn’t take long for him to become a member of the city’s Just the Funny improv troupe.

But Rodriguez wanted to move on and take a new career path, not just a hobby, so she started contacting the directors of various improv groups in Florida. FST improv director Will Luera, whom she had met at a workshop in Miami, responded right away.

He invited Rodriguez to a show and for a drink afterwards. She went, and it was a combination of her welcoming nature and FST’s unique theatrical community – especially the whole improvisational aspect in a cabaret theater – that influenced her.

Elise Rodriguez is also an actress and she studied “Native Gardens” at the FST. Courtesy photo

She moved to Sarasota in August 2017, joined the FST On Deck improvisation cast in September, started teaching FST improvisation classes in January, and moved to the FST Improv Mainstage team this winter.

So why improvise?

“I think it’s being able to create based on what inspires you at the moment,” says Rodriguez. “It’s a rush, and it’s something driven by curiosity and getting carried away somewhere.”

She loves the spontaneity of improvisation – so much so that she tells her students to throw out any backup shots they could have planned before taking the stage.

This creates a very united environment between not only professional improvisers but also improvisation students, from beginners to those who have reached the highest level, 601.

“They are really invested in the theater itself and in their classmates,” she says of her students. “And all teachers are so different, we all shine in our own way. … I have the impression of bringing something.

Theater takes up most of her time, Rodriguez says, especially now that she also coaches FST’s first all-female improvisation troupe, Busted !. But she still drafts wills, visits clients and operates her side business, Elise Rodriguez Freeform Coaching, to coach law students, bar candidates and new lawyers.

Rodriguez likes to keep busy and she attributes it to the time she spent in the Gifted Students program as a child.

Elise Rodriguez was previously in the Just the Funny improvisation troupe in Miami. Courtesy photo

“Our brains have to do a lot of things at once, otherwise we are taking action,” she says of these students. “I felt like I was able to be creative and to be myself there… And that disappeared from the end of high school until I got into that (first) grade. ‘improvisation.”

The dynamic duo

Moriah and Isabel Curley-Clay are identical beyond their appearance.

The twin sisters both earned undergraduate degrees in anthropology at New York University, where they both fell in love with theatrical design. Next, the couple each earned an MFA in Theatrical Design from Brandeis University.

Now, an independent Atlanta-based set design team will have designed the sets for 19 FST productions by August.

The Curley-Clay sisters have designed sets for everything from “Hairspray” to “Doublewide” (pictured here). Courtesy photo

“I think it’s really beneficial for us to be sisters, because sometimes we’ll approach something the same way, and sometimes it’s very different and we have to persuade ourselves,” says Moriah Curley-Clay. “It’s like a sounding board, and if we’re on the same page from the start, we know the story we’re trying to tell, and that builds trust.

Isabel and Moriah Curley-Clay say their parents, who also had creative careers, often took them to the theater growing up. However, they found it funny when close friends told them they should be part of the high school theater tech crew. It wasn’t until their college set design class that it all really started to make sense.

The two Curley-Clays worked with other set designers during their time at NYU, but after graduating they realized what they could accomplish together – in February 2016, they were featured in the Seven Theater Artists at watch from American Theater Magazine – and they’ve worked as a couple ever since.

Moriah and Isabel Curley-Clay designed the set for the FST production of “Alabama Story” during the 2015-2016 season. Courtesy photo

The duo’s FST career began when a director they often worked with in Atlanta asked them to design the set for FST’s “Taking Shakespeare” in 2014. Their experience was so positive they kept coming back. – they say they love the FST team, but the lure of the Florida sun has also helped.

Design for FST typically begins eight weeks before opening night, they say, and the first step is to learn the director’s vision for the production environment. Next, Isabel Curley-Clay says their anthropology degree is helpful as they need to do extensive research on the show’s plot, time period, etc.

“Anthropology is about uncovering the stories of people in the past and learning about cultures different from your own,” adds Moriah Curley-Clay. “We’ve learned to do a lot of research and we have this scientific crossover. “

After choosing an aesthetic based on the research results, they create several sketches – first rough, then detailed – and models, which the team presents to the director. After changes, they send it to a construction crew who make the set without the on-site guidance of the sisters, who descend from Atlanta about 10 days before opening night. But they’re a detail-oriented pair, so they’re in constant communication with the build team and the props department, they say.

Isabel Curley-Clay says many set designers have to start as techies and then move up through the design ladder, but she and her sister never had to. They had design projects right after graduation.

The Curley-Clays own Atlanta-based stage and costume design studio Axis Studios Design. Courtesy photo

“You don’t want us to build things, we’ve been very lucky that way,” she laughs.

Isabel Curley-Clay also claims that one of the main advantages of pairing with design is that you don’t need to hire assistants. Instead of delegating tasks to someone with perhaps less experience, they lean on each other.

So why the scenography?

“I like being able to create a different world for each story,” says Moriah Curley-Clay. “And you learn a lot from the research process. You have to become mini-experts on every little world.



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