Photo by Patel Conservatory, The Straz Center

Today, more than ever, the arts are being stripped away. That is why places like Patel Conservatory are so very important to immerse your child in theatre, music and dance so he can experience firsthand the magic that comes from putting on a live production.

Over 50 young Patel Conservatory actors, third through eighth grade, and three high school mentors have been rehearsing since February three times a week and two Saturdays to bring to their production of Peter Pan, Jr. to stage at TECO Theatre at The Straz Center on April 26-29.

Nearly sold-out, under the masterful direction of Matthew Belopavlovich, an instructor at the Patel for six years, Peter Pan, Jr. offers the cream of the crop of talent for this production. Over 92 auditioned and Patel selected the students that had the "wow factor."

One such student is 14-year-old Lindsey Davis who plays the beloved role of Peter Pan. Lindsey discovered Patel two years ago from an ad in a newspaper where she joined the mini theatre camp and "never left."

She described her Patel summer camp experience:

"They are really professional and scheduled, which made me feel like I was in good hands. The level of professionalism and efficiency was incredible, and the quality of shows that they turn out are amazing for the amount of time period. It's a good amount of working hard and relaxing. It's a fun balance."

She said her role as Peter Pan was an incredible experience.

"It's one of the most fun roles I've ever gotten to play because the community is great and Peter Pan is such a fun and iconic character," she said. "His personality and characteristics make him such an interesting role to play. There are so many levels to the character that you really get to discover throughout the process."

Her favorite songs alternate between "I Won't Grow Up" because it is a classic and "I'm Flying" because the show uses a lot of dancing and specialized movement.

"I want the audience to take away that although this is a kid's production, it's a professional production. Kids can do as much as adults, which is kind of the spirit of Peter Pan. You don't have to grow up. You can still be a kid and put on a good show."

On the opposite side of the pendulum is 12-year-old Erica Turner as the villainous Captain Hook. She hopes to pursue theatre as a career. She was introduced to Patel Conservatory by an elementary school teacher when she discovered her middle school did not offer an acting program. She's since participated in nearly every show in which her youth group was involved.

"I love it here at Patel. They are so accepting and loving. We all bond with each other. When you're at school, you can go up to somebody and they're into sports. At Patel, in our cast, everybody loves to sing, dance, and act. It's our passion and it really bonds us together."

Erica said it was initially difficult to play the notorious villain because Captain Hook acted completely different than how she would naturally want to be.

"It's so much fun! I love the challenge," she said. "This role has pushed me to do things I never thought I could do and I'm very grateful for that. I want the audience to feel what I think the theme is - there is hope. Though growing up isn't all fun and games, it isn't that bad either. I hope after seeing the show that everyone feels a little more in touch with their old childhood."

This summer Patel will be auditioning talented performers for three major productions - Wizard of Oz for third through eighth grade students, Hello Dolly for ninth grade through college, and for seventh grade through college, Showstoppers Broadway Intensive. The cast of Showstoppers also performs at Walt Disney World and Universal Studios Resorts.

Applicants must submit headshots, resume, and complete an online application.

Matthew said, "Those three shows - when you come to audition, no matter what age you are, you are auditioning for all three because you never know what we might need."

If for some reason, an applicant is not selected, the fully produced shows are only a percentage of what Patel does during the summer.

Patel offers many camps and classes where auditions are not required. One example is a page-to-stage style theatre camp every week of the summer.

"If you want to come and enjoy theatre for a week, then participate in a non-ticketed showcase at the end, then we have that for students who can't commit to two or three weeks during the summer."

Other camps and classes for youth through adult include dance classes and intensives like ballet, jazz, and tap; music classes including piano, guitar, violin, band and voice, and theatre classes and intensives to include many age levels of musical theatre, musical theatre jazz, a Shakespeare intensive, a stage management boot camp, on-screen techniques, and adult improv, among others.

In the Shakespeare Intensive, actors will be working on sonnets, love scenes, and some staged combat.

Matt explained, "Whether you want that summer camp experience where you just come out for one week or you want to just do theatre and a fully produced production, we have quite a variety at Patel."

Register to audition or learn more about summer classes and intensives at

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From This Author Deborah Bostock-Kelley

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