Collaboration Helps Youth Arts Program Thrive

by Jeff Lytle

The banner over a front door at the Greater Naples YMCA on Pine Ridge Road grabs your attention. “Naples Performing Arts Center” in big letters and the smaller “Drama, Music, Dance” underneath are not what you expect to see at avenue known for swimming, basketball, fitness, early childhood learning and tennis.

NPAC production of School of Rock (Courtesy of NPAC).

Look closely and you learn the YMCA is a new hub in the surging Naples arts scene where Artis-Naples and Gulfshore Playhouse get most growth headlines these days. The Y is partnering with NPAC, which has specialized in performance training for youth since 2012 at various rental locations. And, around the corner from the Y, the Community School of Naples is offering a 225-seat auditorium for NPAC’s musicals, which now number six per year, alongside CSN space dedicated to the highly regarded, professional TheatreZone plays and musicals. NPAC founder and CEO Lori Oliver and TheatreZone chief Mark Danni teach at CSN.

A final piece of the arts picture comes with word from CSN that it plans to add a fully developed performing arts curriculum and center, making CSN even more closely resemble a small college campus.

Oliver and operations manager Lily Jano explain, with field trips to New York City for exposure to Broadway shows and actors, and college theater classes.

NPAC production of Beauty and the Beast (Courtesy of NPAC).

At least one professional actor has come to Naples. A star of the “Dear Evan Hansen” hit musical came to NPAC while the pandemic darkened Broadway. He advised two musicals, “Sound of Music” and “Heathers,” which added an extra, sold-outperformance by popular demand.

Reasons for families to explore NPAC enrollment vary, Oliver says. Some students want to prepare for a college theater major while others may be looking for a niche or “place” besides sports where they can fit in and succeed.

They all find “a pretty remarkable atmosphere,” Oliver says, where students “love and encourage one another.”

One big rule is up front – “no drama,” which may sound counter-intuitive until you learn it means no meanness, no talking behind others’ backs, no laughing at others’ failures. Others’ successes, even if that means losing a part that you really want, are to be celebrated, Oliver instructs.

Both Love and Oliver call the partnership an ideal match in a marquee location.

“From day one (in February) it felt like home,” Oliver says of moving into spaces including a teaching kitchen and workout rooms.

NPAC saves money that can be used for scholarships. Love likes the efficiency and community impact, consistent with the Y’s overarching mission for healthy living via spirit, mind and body.

NPAC production of The Lion King (Courtesy of NPAC).

Mary Beth Geier, Florida director of the Richard M. Schulze Family Foundation, which helped rebuild the Y after a fire, floated the teamwork idea. “NPAC and the Y are both looking to increase active engagement, increase exposure and effectively share resources,” she says. “So far, it looks like it’s a great fit.”

The NPAC/YMCA collaboration joins youth programs at venues such as Naples Players, Gulfshore Playhouse, OperaNaples and Artis-Naples. Eileen Connelly-Keesler of the Community Foundation of Collier County sums up the bounty:

“This community understands that we want our youth to be well rounded and that arts have an important place in our community.

We of course have to deal with housing, food and medical services but there is a very important role that arts play … Not every community is so lucky. This is what makes our community unique and a great place to live.”

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