A summer youth workshop will culminate in Peter Pan, directed by a 77-year-old woman who remains passionate about theater.
By DONNA SELF
Published July 22, 2005
CLEARWATER - Scottie Michael has been putting on shows in the Clearwater area for 35 years, but some of her productions have produced more than song and dance.
Fourteen-year-old Caitlin Greene, who plays Tiger Lily in this weekend's Stage Agenda Youth Summer Theatre performance of Peter Pan, is the fruit of Michael's 1982 production of West Side Story. Caitlin's father was the orchestra conductor and her mother played Maria.
Michael said the two were at odds much of the time, and she spent a lot of time counseling them and mending fences.
"Fast forward to the cast party. They were wrapped around each other," she recalls. "P.S.: They got married and had Tiger Lily."
Caitlin says one of the best things about the summer workshop was working with Michael.
"Scottie is one of the most amazing people I've ever met," she said. "She's hilarious, and so vital. I don't know how old she is, but she's old-fashioned. Other community theater productions use tapes for music, but she has everything acoustic."
Actually, Michael is 77, a fact she offers before being asked. Her 5-foot-2, 100-pound frame belies the truth of her red hair.
Michael said she was in every play in school. She studied ballet for 10 years, but instead of pursuing dance and acting lessons in college, she chose to study fashion illustration and costume design at Moore College of Art and Design in her hometown, Philadelphia.
In 1953, she married and, over the next decade, had three daughters. She stayed home with the girls before she "cracked out of the shell of domesticity," lured by theater. She began taking acting workshops at Princeton University, which led to jobs choreographing fundraising shows at the school.
Her husband was supportive and they enjoyed the theater in nearby New York City.
"He was wonderful," Michael said of her late husband, John. "He loved that I loved music, art and dance, and I was thrilled that he loved all that, too. We would take the train into the city to see shows when we could. We met the most wonderful, creative people and were embraced by the theater community."
Michael thought the party was over when she found out she had to move to Largo, where her husband was a manager for a Pfizer subsidiary.
"I cried. I felt like I had taken everything I had before for granted. And I had all these misconceptions about the South. Then I saw Ream Wilson (then head of Clearwater's parks and recreation department) in the paper in the spring of '71. I thought he looked approachable, and by then I had developed a spirit of assertion: hair on my chest, I guess. I went into his office and said, "How come we don't have a drama department?' He said, "We don't have anyone to take it on.' I said, "Here's your slave.' "
Since that meeting in 1971, Michael has been putting shows togethe r as part of City Players. That same spring, her husband was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, and by 1989 things started getting bad. Michael resigned from City Players but still took on freelance jobs.
Her husband died in 1997, and she started the Stage Agenda theater group, doing small classic plays. Clearwater partly funded the program, but last year pulled most of its financing. She has made up the budget through workshop fees, a carwash and the city's contribution of $1,000, leaving one small detail: Michael's salary, which she says will be whatever, if any, profit is made on the show.
But her main goal for children's theater is not about money. It's about getting kids off the couch.
"I wish more parents would say no to TV and computers," she said. "Go play in a tree. Imagine something. Acting engenders a creative brain, which, in turn, makes kids smarter."
The seven-week workshop began with casting the first week, then intensive rehearsals over the next five weeks. Some of the participants traveled as much as an hour each way to participate.
"It has been a long commitment," said Michele Diaz, mother of J.R. Diaz, who plays a Lost Boy. "Lots of late nights, but he loves it."
Seven-year-old J.R. comes swashbuckling by, engaged in a prerehearsal sword fight with another Lost Boy, who is actually a girl. Michael swoops in.
"Dirty, dirty, dirty!" she reminds him. "Arms, knees, face. Lost Boys are dirty!"
Michael, who has no classical training, wrote the book, the music and the lyrics for this adaptation herself.
"I may be an illegitimate musician," she said, "but I've got nerve."
If you go
Stage Agenda's Youth Summer Theatre performance of Peter Pan will begin at 8 tonight and Saturday at the James B. White Auditorium at Clearwater Central Catholic School, 2750 Haines Bayshore Blvd. Tickets are $8 for adults, $4 for children 12 and under.