AAC Teaches Confidence, Sparks Tiara Collection

By Paris Wolfe, Contributing Writer

When Robin Vogel was two or three years old, her mom enrolled her in a class at the Ashtabula Arts Center. She continued taking classes every summer through her late teen years. Not only did she enjoy the experience, she came away with more confidence and a tiara collection.

“I could write a novel about the benefits of taking art and theater classes,” she says. “To keep it brief I learned self-discipline and commitment. I learned to be creative and think outside the sphere.”

Rather than narrow these experiences to one favorite, she says, “I don’t believe in favorites. I’ve had so many wonderful experiences that are all so different, I couldn’t begin to compare them. My highlights reel includes working on The Nutcracker, creating props for plays, running tech, and helping with Kid’s Day Out.”

Robin encourages others to enroll in the fine arts classes for entertainment and skill developmentand to become part of a caring community where lifelong friends are easily made.

“We are so fortunate to have this resource in our community. In all the places I’ve been or lived I have never encountered another facility with dance, theater, music and visual arts under one roof, let alone one that consistently holds classes and puts on productions of such high quality,” she says. “Through the Arts Center I’ve taken class with individuals who have gone on to become professional dancers and been part of theater productions with cast members who are now acting on Broadway. Outside of select schools in New York and California, where does onefind those opportunities?!”

As for the tiara collection? Robin has participated in The Nutcracker Party Scene for years. She says, “It seems that every year I find at least one new tiara to freshen up my costume.”

Robin’s experience performing in The Nutcracker is one that will be open to the entire community this year, as Ballet Theatre Ashtabula is offering a Nutcracker Production Experiencethis fall, in which participants will be cast in various roles in the Party Scene, Battle Scene, and more. Anyone interested should call the Arts Center at (440) 964-3396 to register.

Robin lives in Ashtabula and is Council Coordinator for the Ashtabula County Family and Children First Council.

Dining for the Arts Still Available

by Paris Wolfe, Contributing Writer

If you haven’t purchased a dinner from the Dining with the Arts fundraiser, pick one soon. This isn’t just food, it’s an experience.  We were overwhelmed the Progressive Arts Dinner on July 14. After meeting at the home of Ashtabula Arts Center executive director Meeghan Humphrey we were shuttled to each of four courses held in lush garden settings at the countryside homes of four different artists.

Judy Campbell, owner of Bridge Street Artworks, and her husband Don offered a tour of his day lily hybridizing beds which included original lilies that he created. After that Judy provided canvases on which to paint lilies while quaffing wine punch. The brave in our bunch of eight diners sampled the edible day lilies in a fruited salad.

The next stop, Greg and Pat Seymour started with a savory bruschetta cheesecake and a selection of beverages including watermelon-bourbon punch. Part two of this second course included two soups – garden fresh tomato and coconut curry zucchini.  Between servings Greg demonstrated wood turning on his lathe and explained how Japanese artist George Nakashima’s respect for the tree has inspired his work.  (PHOTO)

Becca Stowell greeted us at the third stop where we dined on chicken and pork kebabs, risotto and fresh vegetables. Then, we played with clay as Becca showed up how to make hand-carved clay tiles.  (PHOTO)

And the finale was like coming home after a busy day. Blacksmith Ralph Bacon,  Meeghan’s husband, demonstrated in his forge. Then, we relaxed under an organic pergola woven of black locust saplings and glowing strings of lights. I was sated from earlier stops, but someone had to eat the peach dumpling with bourbon hard sauce and so I did.

Not all dinners are quite so interactive, but all have themes and generous menus served in lovely local homes and businesses that promise to be an experience. Get yours now at Dining for the Arts.


Musical Theater student Emily Baker on performing in Italy

This summer, Emily Baker, a familiar face on the Arts Center stages and assistant director of West Side Story at Straw Hat Theatre 2017, went to Mezzano, Italy with Music Academy International, a performing arts training program. Emily, a Music Theater student at the Boston Conservatory, spent a month training and performing in the Trentino Music Festival in Mezzano, appearing in a production of Godspell and in several galas for the community.

The one-month window made for an intense schedule: “My second week there was tech week for Godspell. The galas started the first week. I was up at 8 a.m. and in warm-ups at 8:30.” She worked with Vince DeGeorge (of the University of Cinicinatti’s College-Conservatory of Music) on acting and L’ogan J’ones (most recently seen in Spongebob Squarepants the Musical on Broadway) on dance. “We did ballet, Fosse, and hip hop. I’d be in Godspell rehearsal all afternoon and gala rehearsal all evening, five days a week, with more rehearsals on Saturdays.”

While working on her craft in Italy, Emily was able to draw on the theater training she received at the Arts Center, noting that Kim Godfrey, Director of Theater & Music at the AAC, helped her a lot. “One of the ways Vince works is that he’ll give you an idea, tell you to run with it, and then change it. One day in rehearsals, Vince had me do my Godspell song probably six or seven times. And every time he wanted something completely different. Then at the end of that he said, ‘okay, this is the version I want to go with.’ Kim has a very fluid style of directing, and she also focuses on the actor – she has her ideas of what she wants for a character, then she sees what works with that actor, and intertwines those ideas. Working with her, I learned to try things many different ways and remember the details of how I did each one. I think one of the reasons I worked so well with Vince on Godspell was because I’d been taught to do that. If I didn’t have that training from the Arts Center, I don’t know how well I would have worked with him.”

Emily singles out the friendships she made and the collaborative spirit of the program as valued takeaways: “It was amazing to be in the environment I was in. There was no cell phone service or internet except in one restaurant. It was refreshing to meet people and spend time with them immersed in that environment, with no distractions. The culture of that performing arts program was different, too. We were able to focus more on the artistry, rather than being put in competition with each other, which is a big change from musical theater programs at home. It made a great environment for trying to grow for your own sake as an artist, and for helping and supporting each other. We could give each other feedback without feeling that twinge of competition. A major part of musical theater as a field of study and a career is being told that there’s a set of things you’re supposed to be, and figuring out your ‘type.’ You’re expected to fit into a box a director would want. This program focused on artistry as exploration and individual expression. It gave me the freedom to make mistakes and take different chances.”

Emily Baker at the outdoor theater in Mezzano, Italy

Caitlin Rose: Featured Performer in “Beauty and the Beast in Concert”

Whether performing, teaching, or directing, Caitlin Rose has been a vibrant and integral part of the Ashtabula Arts Center for years. She first got involved in 2004, when she was part of the ensemble in Les Miserables: Student Edition.  Tonight, she takes the stage as “Belle” for the first of her three appearances in the G.B. Community Theatre production of Disney’s Beauty and the Beast in Concert.  This weekend’s shows will be her final performances before she, like Belle, undertakes a larger adventure: teaching drama and music as head of the new musical theater program at the Raha International School in Abu Dhabi.

In addition to Les Mis, Caitlin’s early roles at the arts center included “Wendy” in Peter Pan in 2005 and “the Girl” in The Fantasticks in 2006. She’s also taught voice, and has held production roles in many shows, including director and music director for last year’s Seussical, Jr., director of last summer’s The Wedding Singer, and music director for The Addams Family in October.  “My first role on a production team at the AAC was Peter Pan, Jr. as music director, a story that’s always been close to my heart,” she recalled. Her work with her students is her proudest accomplishment from her work at the arts center: “[seeing] my students grow not only into wonderful performers but genuine, kind individuals who work their tails off. I am in complete awe of them and their work. I really lucked out with them as a teacher.”

Caitlin has no shortage of favorite memories from her years at the arts center, describing “a series of moments with my dearest friends here. Kim Godfrey, Rachel Meyer, Debbie Fleming, Christy Seymour…countless others. The friendships and stories we’ve all created together.” She does single out one very special connection, though: “It’s reconnecting with the love of my life, my best friend, and fellow arts center employee and performer, Brandon Carlson. I’m forever grateful for what the arts center has brought to me in my professional and personal life.”

In Beauty and the Beast, Caitlin will perform, fittingly, alongside her father, Jonathan Rose.  She said of the experience, “This has by far been my favorite role onstage at the AAC, not only because Belle is my dream role, but because I get to share it with my father, who portrays Belle’s father, Maurice. Our song together is one of my favorites in the show because it’s a genuine performance. He’s a little bit of an absent-minded professor, and I’m the dreamer and adventurer. I’m so proud of him and my family. I’m thankful for their never ending support, ‘No Matter What.’”

Looking ahead, Caitlin said the things she’s most looking forward to in her new position are discovering new ways to teach and meeting students and teachers of all nationalities. “I’m especially thankful to be teaching theater and music. No matter what language you speak or where you’re from, the arts are universal. They connect with all of humanity.” She leaves her students, fellow actors, and audiences with one last bit of direction: “Don’t be afraid to take risks. Make choices. Whether you’re challenged with a role on stage or given an opportunity to fly across the world for a job, take the risk. Go for what you want and do it with your whole heart. My favorite phrase is ‘do the crossword in pen.’ It could change your whole life.”

Beauty and the Beast in Concert runs for two weekends, January 13-15 and January 20-22. “Belle” will be played by Caitlin Rose the first weekend, and by Libby Kendzerski the second.