Mustangs will perform their ‘Exhibit of the Mind’ at Tada! theater in New York City.
For Jackson Helwege, a senior at Lakewood Ranch High School, working hard has never felt so good.
Especially since it will land him Off-Broadway in New York City.
“This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity,” Helwege said. “I have never been to New York, so this will be a total whirlwind. From the moment we started working, we have put the pedal to the metal in the best kind of way.”
Helwege, along with 25 other students in Lakewood Ranch High School’s Theatre Department, have been given the opportunity to perform “Exhibit of the Mind,” their upcoming production, at the youth theater Tada! in New York.
Tada! runs programs to educate youth about the theater, including one that allows a school to create and perform an original production. Professional teaching artists assist with direction.
Lakewood Ranch High will be the first non-New York school allowed to participate.
“Exhibit of the Mind” first will be performed in the auditorium 7:30 p.m. Feb. 17-18 at Lakewood Ranch High School.
After the shows in Lakewood Ranch, the cast will continue to rehearse the production until March 16 when they embark on their five-day adventure to New York. The show will run March 20.
Additionally, three theater professionals affiliated with Tada! — Angela Jamieson, Keith Huff and Monet Saffore — have come to Lakewood Ranch and have been working, directing, teaching and helping the students as they rehearse for the opening night of “Exhibit of the Mind.” Jamieson currently is a pianist and conductor of “The Lion King” on Broadway.
The trip became possible because Roxane Caravan, the Lakewood Ranch High Theatre Department director, has numerous theater connections in New York, where she grew up. One of those connections was Katy Knowles, Tada!’s senior education manager and a 2004 Lakewood Ranch High graduate.
Knowles said she knows what the Lakewood Ranch students are capable of doing, so she convinced her board they would be a perfect fit for the program and worthy of being the first non-New York school invited.
Knowles said Lakewood Ranch students already were planning a trip to New York to participate in some Tada! workshops.
“Since December, when I told the students about this, they have all been crazy excited,” Caravan said. “It is a huge, real-world experience. They are absolutely eating it up and nailing it.”
She said the experience will help the students in the future whether or not they pursue other theater endeavors.
“This will help them tremendously,” Caravan said. “The students have learned to work with other people in a cohesive way. Through this, they’ve been building trust and that whole idea of feeling safe.”
She said “Exhibit of the Mind” is not traditional storytelling. It represents a genre called “devised theater,” meaning something is created from scratch.
The students wrote the script using a journaling method.
“This show is completely original work,” Caravan said. “We started doing journaling with the kids, throwing different things out there until we came up with a general topic and some subtopics.”
The idea was the students’ perception of self-image.
Besides writing their own script, the students built their own set.
Andrew Stevens, a senior scenic and lighting technician for the Theatre Department, said he is thrilled to be given the chance to use his creativity to build a set.
“This experience has been amazing,” Stevens said. “This is the first show where I built the set off my own designs. We have always had a (professional) designer who would do it.”
Senior cast member Tatiana Galante said she can’t wait to see how the script translates to the stage. “I feel like all of us are close anyway, but opening up and talking about our feelings and experiences (through journaling) has really helped us get to know each other even more. It has also encouraged us to see things from other people’s perspective.”