Backstage In The Palm Beaches

South Florida is not just synonymous with world-class real estate, restaurants and shopping – it’s also become a mecca for art and culture. We have performing arts facilities where visitors can see a Broadway show or an award-winning original production. We have schools where students can produce films and documentaries. We have operas that perform on the waterfront. And we never have to leave the state – or even the county – to get to these institutions. We look at eight of these local organizations and the cultural impact that they’re making on the area.

by Sandra Benavides Weichel Nov 2014 Also on Digital Edition

Ballet Palm Beach

Imagine strolling through the piazza of CityPlace in West Palm Beach. Perhaps there’s an ice cream cone in your hand, you’re in the company of your best friend and you have the feeling that time is on your side. When suddenly something delightfully 
unexpected happens: An impromptu ballet performance breaks out just inches away from where you stand.

Surprised? So were the people walking through CityPlace in September. They, like many other unsuspecting bystanders at surrounding venues like The Gardens Mall, the Palm Beach Zoo and the Juno Beach Park Pier, witnessed an amalgamation of grace, strength and beauty.

For two days Ballet Palm Beach, a non-profit dance company, surprised hundreds of Palm Beach County residents with up-close-and-personal ballet performances.

This flash mob performance is one of Ballet Palm Beach’s many outreach programs. Another program, Ballet by the Book, partners the company with Palm Beach County Library System and the Literacy Coalition of Palm Beach County to adapt children’s literature into a dance, which is then performed at local libraries, schools and non-profits.

Going into its 14th season, Ballet Palm Beach was initially born out of the need to enrich the lives of the students enrolled at The Esther Center – a non-profit dance school Colleen Smith opened 22 years ago. But once the company grew, Smith noticed it was enriching the community as well.

“There’s no other art form that marries the art to the body so closely,” Smith says. “It’s our gift that we want to share.”

Ballet Palm Beach’s main stage productions can be seen at the Eissey Campus Theatre. And come Thanksgiving, audiences will have a chance to see the dancers float on stage as they perform the Christmas classic, “The Nutcracker.”


G-Star School of the Arts

Madison Lillard is not your typical high school student. But then again, neither are any of the other 1,100+ students attending the G-Star School of the Arts.

While other students in surrounding schools are playing sports, Lillard and her schoolmates are learning how to produce, direct and even star in films.

Sure, the G-Star high school offers the core curriculum classes with Advanced Placement and dual-enrollment classes offered at local universities.

But as a film, animation and acting school, its focus is the performing arts. The Palm Springs-based school owns an 110,000-square-foot commercial motion picture studio, where feature films, commercials and music videos have been produced.

“[Students] have an opportunity they wouldn’t have anywhere else because they end up graduating from our school with professional resumes a mile long,” Dawn Hauptner, who is 
Lillard’s mother and the school foundation’s director of development, says.

Founded in 2003 by Dawn’s husband Greg Hauptner, the non-profit, charter high school is a hands-on, artistically oiled machine. Its annual haunted house, X-Scream, was named by the Travel Channel as one of the“13 Scariest Haunted Attractions in America” in 2008. And each year, it finances a film that the students have written, produced, directed and acted in; it films a documentary about World War II veterans and the Holocaust; and as of last year, it launched a program called Students Adopt a Veteran, Fallen Hero or Holocaust Survivor, where the students interview and document the experiences of their adoptees.

In fact, Lillard has adopted two veterans: local hero Carl Arfa and none other than Sen. Bob Dole.

Four new high-tech buildings are planned for the campus. A 6,000-square-foot cultural building is due in the summer of 2015, where the students will exhibit all the knowledge gained from the adoption program.

An interactive museum illustrating the terrible events of World War II will allow students and visitors to crawl through foxholes, dodging the sounds of an onslaught of incoming airplanes and nearby bombs – a glimpse into what some of the war conditions were like.

It’s clear that there’s no business like show business.


The Kravis Center for the Performing Arts

Heading east on Okeechobee Boulevard toward downtown West Palm Beach, the Raymond F. Kravis Center for the Performing Arts is the one landmark that indicates you’ve arrived.

Elegantly perched on the highest point in the county, the community-gathering venue is a beacon of the arts. And when hearing it described as such, Judith Mitchell lights up.

“That’s music to my ears,” Mitchell, chief operating officer, says. “Thinking back to 1992 – the year we opened – that was not the case. … Now it’s hard to imagine that it wasn’t ever here.”

For the last 22 years, the Kravis has filled its venues with people who have shed tears and shared laughs, watching musicals like “Les Misérables,” comedians like Lewis Black and performances by Palm Beach Opera.

The $110 million center hosts approximately 550 performances each year and welcomes more than 500,000 people annually.

This season, Kravis on Broadway will present audience favorites like Rodgers and Hammerstein’s “Cinderella.” With grace and fluidity, performers will bring life to the pumpkin carriage, the glass slipper and the dream that anyone can be something more. During the Kids on Broadway series at the Kravis, children will have an opportunity to meet the stars and try on the glass slipper.

The non-profit offers myriad educational and community outreach programs. The Students & Teachers Arts Resources Series (S*T*A*R) is a variety program held during school hours, presenting high-quality performances that support the school board’s curriculum. Students have an opportunity to see what it could have been like for the young Wright brothers to launch their very first airplane in the play “The Wright Stuff: First in Flight,” or see the dancers from Ballet Palm Beach defy gravity as they glide effortlessly across stage while performing “Wonderland.”

And with the admission waiver program and busing transportation available to public schools, the Kravis makes its programming accessible to any child despite their economic situation.

The Kravis’ mission of enhancing every life in Palm Beach County is alive and well.


Palm Beach Symphony

David McClymont firmly believes that children are the future.

As the Palm Beach Symphony’s newly appointed executive director, he recognizes that in order to build future audiences, education is critical.

“If there’s any way that we will be successful to build a pipeline for the future, we have to start with the children,” he says.

Two years ago, the non-profit organization started a free children’s concert. Through a program called Carnival of the Animals, the Palm Beach Symphony performed at the Eissey Campus Theatre for about 600 children from a variety of Title 1 schools free of charge.

As a result of that success, the orchestra has now been invited to participate in the S*T*A*R* Series at the Kravis Center.

“We’re really just trying to create connectivity,” McClymont says. “If we can get to the children then maybe we can get to the parents, and hopefully expose all of them to the wonderful programming we have.”

Palm Beach Symphony’s community outreach is ongoing. It partnered with the South Florida Science Center and Aquarium to bring music to about 10,000 kids during the science center’s Nights at the Museum program. And with the recently received $25,000 matching grant from Paul and Sandra Goldner, who put together the Maltz Jupiter Theatre Conservatory of Performing Arts, it is trying to bring musical instruments into the schools.

The Palm Beach Symphony also has an ace up its sleeve: Ramon Tebar, an internationally acclaimed conductor. “He is one of the most dynamic conductors you will ever watch,” McClymont says. “It becomes much more than an audio experience, it’s visual.”

Even though the Palm Beach Symphony was founded in 1974, its community presence, McClymont says, still has a long way to go. “It starts with small baby steps that actually convert into almost like a cascading waterfall of success,” he says.

The Palm Beach Symphony will be performing on Nov. 16, at The Gardens Mall to benefit Quantum House, and on Jan. 9, 2015 to benefit KidSanctuary Campus.


The Norton Museum of Art

The Norton Museum of Art in West Palm Beach is committed to two things: to preserve and to educate.

So while its diligent curators are preserving approximately 7,300 pieces of art, Glenn Tomlinson’s job is to educate.

“We really want to communicate our love of a subject to other people,” Tomlinson, the William Randolph Hearst Curator of Education at the Norton, says.

Every Thursday evening, the weekly Art After Dark Series invites the public to not only view its gallery and exhibitions, but to participate in DIY projects, lectures and wine tastings, while enjoying either a live musical performance, dance or film.

One night this past summer, the Norton invited the public to take a walk into the past. There was the funky music of a Grateful Dead tribute band playing in the background, 10 classic cars parked out front, and an exhibit of miniature Matchbox and Hot Wheels cars and Barbie dolls. Through the use of numerous editions of these toys, vintage advertisements, design drawings and television commercials, people were left feeling like they had walked through a time machine.

“We’re trying to bring people through these doors and break the barriers of whatever elitist misconceptions people may have of a museum,” Tomlinson says.

And what better way to break down those barriers than by working with children. Through the efforts of a program called PACE: Progressive Afterschool Art Community Education, the Norton provides after-school art programs to kids in underserved communities.

The Norton’s educational outreach efforts are as impressive as its collection of photography, European, American, contemporary and Chinese art, the latter of which will be a main focus this season.

In February, the Norton will host an exhibition called High Tea, which will look at the impact of tea – originally a Chinese product – and how it culturally affected the world and, ultimately, the arts.

And in the spirit of growth, the Norton will be adding approximately 52,000 square feet of space, which will be unveiled in phases around the Norton’s 75th anniversary in 2016. The new structure will pave the way for future preservation and education opportunities.


South Florida Science Center and Aquarium

Before Lew Crampton accepted the position as chief executive officer at the South Florida Science Museum in 2010, the non-profit organization was arguably unknown.

The attendance was around 100,000 a year, its budget was less than $2 million, and although it appealed to families with small children, it had very little presence in the community.

That is, until last year.

With the recent completion of a $5 million expansion, which included adding 10,000 square feet of exhibit space, an 8,000-gallon aquarium, a conservation research station, and an Everglades exhibit, the museum, which is now the South Florida Science Center and Aquarium, is a scientific force to be reckoned with.

“We’re all about science, but what the mission really means is that we will go anywhere, do anything to turn people on to this science,” Crampton says.

Take a program called Science on Tap. This program invites people to a local bar, where they can mingle, drink and listen to a scientist speak about topics like the laws of sexual attraction, forensic science or why your dog loves you.

And thanks to the $1 million gift from the Quantum Foundation, the science center is now also able to bring blockbuster exhibits to the center like the “Afterlife: Tombs & Treasures of Ancient Egypt.”

Through mid-April, visitors can see a 3,000-year-old male mummy – a unique opportunity to learn about how the Egyptians lived, and more importantly how they died.

But the big feather in the non-profit’s cap is still a ways away. Partnering with the Palm Beach Zoo, the science center will create a destination called Eco Park. Approximately a 10-year project, the park will have a butterfly haven, a ropes course, an environmental and science education center, an Everglades exhibit, and possibly an IMAX theatre.

It’s safe to say that with attendance going up to 185,000 and a capital budget around $4 million, Crampton and his dedicated staff are headed in the right direction.


Maltz Jupiter Theatre

A marionette puppet show is all it took for Andrew Kato to fall in love with the performing arts.

He was 5 years old when he saw his mother, a puppeteer in England, backstage holding a large marionette hanging from its strings; the same marionette he had witnessed minutes before on stage. Although he was surprised to find out it was all an illusion, Kato walked away from that experience enchanted.

Today as the artistic director of Maltz Jupiter Theatre, Kato is bringing that passion to South Florida.

Two years ago Kato and John Mercurio, composer and writer, created a coming-of-age story. With the use of puppetry, magic and black light they put together a new musical rendition of “Alice in Wonderland” to tell the story about Alice, who is being bullied at school. Alice withdraws into her imagination and through her journey, she learns something about herself.

Celebrating his 9th season with the Maltz, Kato continues to steadily breathe new life into the theater. He consistently creates quality entertainment and has increased the subscription base from 2,300 to more than 7,600.

The 617-seat venue serves more than 100,000 people a year, and through the Paul and Sandra Goldner Conservatory of Performing Arts, it also serves hundreds of students in after-school, weekend and summer programs.

“I’m working to educate the community on the value of having a top regional theater in their backyard,” Kato says.

Opportunities include the Youth Artist Chair program, where the kids are mentored by theater professionals; and summer camps, where kids are introduced to theater, tap, jazz and ballet classes.

With a recent $2.5 million renovation, which included an upgrade to the lobby and the addition of a private upstairs club level called The Green Room, and another approximate $15 million expansion that will take two years to complete, the Maltz is on its way to becoming a leading competitor in regional theaters statewide.


Palm Beach Opera

Daniel Biaggi stepped into his role as the general director at the Palm Beach Opera on the heels of a financially crucial time for the organization.

The year was 2009, and like the rest of country, it too was faced with economic instability. So in order to fight the uphill battle, he had to ask some difficult questions: How can Palm Beach Opera stay relevant? What does the audience want to see? And what is the board willing to support?

The answer, he says, was creative destruction.

“We had to consciously have the courage to take something away in order to make something else possible,” Biaggi says. “In our case, we needed to focus on three main productions [instead of four] at the Kravis in order to have time and resources available to take programming into the community.”

So a couple of years ago, the non-profit organization made a shift in its company’s vision, and literally took the opera out of the opera house.

Opera @ The Waterfront is one of Palm Beach Opera’s newest initiatives. It is a free, live opera performance at the Meyer Amphitheatre. So whether it’s laying on a plush blanket or reclined back in a chair while nibbling on some cheese and crackers, and perhaps drinking a glass of wine, people can gather around the 10,000-square-foot open theater and get lost in the beautiful arias being performed. It’s an excellent way, Biaggi says, to get introduced to the opera. The next one is premiering on Dec. 13.

The non-profit organization is anchoring its presence into the community. And by establishing the Young Artist Program for emerging singers and the Palm Beach Studio, where high school students interested in the arts can access an after-school apprentice program, the Palm Beach Opera is introducing opera to future generations.

The next step in reinventing the Palm Beach Opera will take place on Feb. 20, 2015, when it will stage a world premiere for the first time ever. Palm Beachers will have a chance to see the critically acclaimed American opera, “Enemies, A Love Story” before anyone else in the entire country.