WEDU Arts Plus


Episode 915

Go behind the scenes of Florida Studio Theatre in Sarasota as they share their history and goals for making theater that is accessible to all. Artist Keith Neltner works to bring brands to life from his family's farm in Kentucky. A group of women in Reno, Nevada combine aerial arts and dance for a one-of-a-kind performance. Illustrator Tom Richmond makes his living by making people laugh.

AIRED: August 06, 2020 | 0:26:45

(upbeat music)

- [Announcer] This is a production of WEDU PBS,

Tampa, St. Petersburg, Sarasota.

Major funding for WEDU Arts Plus is provided

through The Greater Cincinnati Foundation

by an arts loving donor who encourages others

to support your PBS station WEDU,

and by the Pinellas Community Foundation,

giving humanity a hand since 1969.

- [Dalia] In this edition of WEDU Arts Plus,

a Sarasota theater focuses on diversity and accessibility.

- [Richard] We come together as humanity.

That's the kind of play at its most basic

that we're looking for.

- [Dalia] Great American design born on a farm.

- [Keith] Small match and branding studio,

whether that'd be for musicians or candy.

That really is what we do.

We tell stories visually with an aesthetic

that I think is unique.

- [Dalia] Conveying emotions through movement.

- [Artist] There's so many ways

that you can express yourself

through like songs or different movements.

Being able to be really expressive,

conveying anger, passion.

- [Dalia] And a MAD Magazine illustrator.

- [Tom] Mostly what I do for MAD these days

in the movie and TV parodies,

which are sort of a staple of the magazine,

they pick a movie and make fun of it.

- It's all coming up next on WEDU Arts Plus.

(soft jazzy music)

Hi, I'm Dalia Colon and this is WEDU Arts Plus.

Florida Studio Theater is a village of theaters

located in downtown Sarasota.

While FST comes from humble beginnings,

it has grown to serve thousands of theater goers annually

with a mission of accessibility and inclusion

in the performing arts

♪ Leaves not a single doubt ♪

♪ And everything is in full swing ♪

♪ When you hear somebody shout ♪

♪ This joint is jumpin' ♪

♪ It's really jumpin' ♪

♪ Come in cats an' check your hats ♪

♪ I mean this joint is jumpin' ♪

- FST was founded in 1973 by Jon Spelman.

The women's club came into the picture probably around 76

I'm gonna guess, maybe 77.

That was going to be torn down

and turned into a parking lot.

And Jon saw it and knew that there was a ballroom inside

and that he could use that as a rehearsal hall.

So when I arrived, what is now the theater had been used

mostly as a rehearsal hall and they had built some tiers

and put in 72 very large squeaky chairs.

And we had an operating budget of $140,000

when I was hired and we produced six shows

and sold a subscription for $18 for all six shows.

So that's about three bucks a piece.

We wanted to make it affordable.

It took time for that philosophy and that policy to mature

and grow, to mean as much as it does today

because affordability and accessibility

is a really big deal today.

And during the recession,

we gained 2,000 new subscribers because it was affordable.

You didn't have to be a rich person to go to the theater

that anybody could come.

A very large portion, like 30, 40% of our audience,

they can't afford to go to most theaters,

but they can afford to come to us

and we're doing great theater.

And I think it makes for a great theater

because you have a more diverse audience.

Accessibility, on the other hand, means something else.

And when I came, we didn't have a wheelchair ramp.

If somebody who's handicapped or needed help

had trouble getting into the theater,

the first thing we did was get a bunch of plywood

and we literally built a wheelchair ramp

so that people could get into the theater.

Today it means so much more.

It means can I understand it?

Accessible in thought.

Does it represent the world that I live in?

Accessible in ethnicity?

Are there people like me on the stage?

Are they all white people?

Are there brown people, too?

Are there black people, too?

Are there Asian people, too?

So we really have worked hard at making the theater

accessible, and that means very diverse.

And I think the beauty of diversity

in theater is that it's balanced

by the homogeneous nature of theater.

We come together as humanity.

That's the kind of play at its most basic

that we're looking for,

whether it's a small cast or a large cast.

And then there's another thing that appeals to me

particularly, and that is minimalism.

The less you put on stage,

the more the audience uses their imagination.

The less you put on stage, the more impactful the word.

And then theatricalism is important to me.

- Realize how it sounds.

- As if you could ever be an earl.

Aged people would have to die for that to happen.

How likely is that?

♪ I am standing here with poison in my pocket ♪

♪ One eye on the target, one eye on the clock ♪

♪ It better happen soon before I lose my nerve and run ♪

♪ If I'd had a knife, I could have grabbed him ♪

♪ And discreetly knocked him on the head and stabbed him ♪

♪ Not to mention what I would have done if I had had a gun ♪

- We're the largest subscription theater

in the State of Florida.

The reason we started subscriptions was we wanted

the same audience to come back and see the next play,

and then to come back and see the next play.

If you're a subscriber,

you get to see the stuff that you like

but you're also gonna see stuff

that might challenge you a little bit,

or jangle your thinking a little bit,

but then, that grows you as an audience member,

that grows you as a person.

And if the audience grows,

the art grows and if the art grows, the audience grows

and we're constantly challenging each other back and forth.

The main stage is our core program.

It's the backbone of the theater, it's what we started with.

And it appeals to a very very broad audience.

The cabaret has this larger following,

more popular following because we tend to do

mostly musical work and we do contemporary music

so that we're doing musical reviews

of the lyric poets of our age.

Stage three is the most challenging

that appeals to more seasoned theater goer.

And those are the three primary venues that we have.

But in addition to that, we have the big education program,

which is afterschool and summer camp programming

on property here at Florida Studio Theater,

playing to hundreds of youngsters and adults.

So the theater school plays for everything from acting

to playwriting for adults to a puppetry

and singing and dance for children.

Then we have writer play in the schools

that plays to about 45,000 people a year now

and inspires playwriting and teaches playwriting.

And the sixth leg of our theater is new play development.

And that's the equivalent of research and development

in a big corporation.

Our intent was simply to serve an audience

and to do the best art we possibly could.

We speak to the audience.

I think that's what makes us stand out.

We are accessible.

They understand what we're saying,

that we're interested in things that they're interested in.

We're creating extraordinary material here.

We're finally, I think, realizing

that we just have to tell other people about it.

(soft music)

- To learn more, visit

Keith Neltner works on the same farm in Kentucky

that his great grandfather once plowed.

He now uses the space for his design company,

Neltner Small Batch.

(inspiring music)

- We're in a place called Camp Springs, Kentucky.

My great great grandfather

actually came from Germany in 1845.

He settled here.

My family, basically stayed and taken root here.

(bright music)

The farm is still a working farm.

My oldest brother actually manages the farm

and starting a new wedding venue.

My mom's still active in cans, pickles

and we do a fall festival, so it's rural,

but there's interesting things kind of tucked in the hills

and I guess mainly we're one of those.

Small Batch, in a nutshell is a branding studio.

Whether that'd be for musicians,

the distilling industry or candy, that really is what we do.

We tell stories visually with an aesthetic

that I think is unique.

So I was able to bring this work ethic to design

and creating that was kind of unique and it really drove me

throughout my career.

(upbeat rock music)

One of the influences with creating Small Batch was

could you take a team that in a larger agency

might be spread out across multiple projects,

multiple responsibilities, but what if you could take

a core team that just focused on creating?

One of our team members is Jeff Chambers.

He's a writer, creative director

from actually the Herzog space that we're in right now.

We did the branding for their record store

and Jeff wrote for that and so we've probably worked

together 10 plus years.

It's interesting because he brings the level

to Small Batch, the tone, the copy tone,

not just visually what we do, but in words and storytelling.

It's an invaluable talent that he brings.

- These guys always grab onto something within this story.

And then we get back together and bam,

it's this fantastic thing.

- Rob Warnick is a local illustrator

who has this really kind of ironic fun

cartoon kind of style.

But he's worked with us on brands like Ferrara Candy Company

out of Chicago.

We reinvented LemonHead, which is a brilliant 70s brand.

He just brought a tone to the project that we needed.

Truly, I look at this work as a reflection of us and myself.

We have to be proud of that.

And I think tapping into the right people

for the tone or the aesthetic is just important.

(rock music)

(soft music)

I was influenced by people along the way that illustrators

that I just admired or saw them firsthand creating

spray paint, ink, whatever it might be.

And what that ends up doing is creating something that

there's not a repetitive nature and the work,

it does feel completely hands-on.

And I think in a pretty mobile computer-centric world,

maybe that's what drives my interest in creating something.

Even if it shows up on Instagram or on an app,

it has origins that were created by a person,

so that's really important, I think.

In a lot of ways I try and create that imperfection

sometimes in the work, but for me,

I layer things and I bring that into the work.

There's a moment where I'm like, okay, that's done.

Or someone can't just replicate that.

Like we made something unique.

So Boone County Distilling Company came to us

a couple of years ago and said,

"Hey, we wanna resurrect this distillery

"that was in Boone County."

So the first product that they launched was called 1833.

And it really championed William Schneider as the influence.

The tagline that Jeff Chambers wrote was Made by Ghosts.

I think, the idea of storytelling,

the way we interpret it can be different.

I think, yeah, the process can be really focused.

So if it's an illustration on bourbon label,

a lot of times I'll look for inspiration

that totally might start to feel

through color and texture and type

how the end piece might feel, so essentially a mood board.

But usually things start with tracing paper

and it's pretty loose, and then you kind of slowly

tighten and funnel and finesse

and we'll share conceptual directions with a client

to bring them along as we're creating.

You've got ink and printers and paper,

and there's a lot of attributes, that tactile things

that you kind of have to have that vision early on

to plan for that or to kind of bring that to light.

I think there's a lot of pride in the sense

that a lot of the work is created here

and it's inevitably influenced by our environment.

There's a truth to what we can bring to a project

that applies and the farm is still,

we're still sustaining that and that is really important.

In the afternoon, my kids get home from school,

and they pop up here and they're an influence to me.

It's just procuring that from your life.

And someone asks me, how's it going?

It's like, it's just one big life.

You know what I mean?

Like there's blurred lines in a really good way,

where family, I hope my family, my kids

are influenced by what they're seeing,

so they can turn it into something completely different

and take something from it and make their own thing.

You know?

'Cause I think that my parents and my grandparents

would be proud of that.

(soft music)

- To find out more about his work,

check out

The Siren Society is a group of women from Reno, Nevada

who have mastered the arts of aerial artistry and dance.

They combine their skills with high fashion and charisma

to create breathtaking performances.

(inspiring music)

- It makes me happy to be upside down.

It's hard work, but at the same time when I'm up here,

I don't really have to think that much.

If it's something I've been doing for awhile,

like a move that I really know, I just...

It's calming.

- I am the owner of an aerial arts group performance group

called The Siren Society.

We do aerial arts, we do fire dancing.

We have dancers, we have a ballerina.

We do like character dancing, Gogo dancing,

and we have choreography dancers.

We also do flow arts.

Our friends at Tahomap said,

"Hey, we have space at our big, huge warehouse.

"And if you guys would like to do cool stuff,

"while other artists watch you guys, then that'd be cool."

So we thought it was a great match

and it's nice to be among other artists making art, as well.

- So this is the aerial hoop

and I've been doing it for about three years or so.

I started when Siren Society started.

With the hoop, it's all about finding the right balance

and just being in the middle and where your body should be.

(inspiring music)

- My specialty is aerial silks.

It's really hard to describe

whenever someone asks me what I do, I usually describe it

kind of like gymnastics on fabric.

And then they're like, "Oh, like Cirque, du Solei?"

And I'm like, yeah. (laughs)

Basically. (inspiring music)

- I'm actually a ballet dancer.

So that's where I kind of got in the group of things.

We also really work with flow art,

which is what you see right here through these black poise

actually very recent, you don't see them a lot.

They're weighted, so that's why it kind of like leads

with the fabric and they're also blacklight reflective.

So they look really, really cool in the black light.

(inspiring music)

- [Artist] We get a lot of work during the holidays

because people are having Christmas parties

and holiday parties, company parties, and we're busy,

and then in the spring and summer.

We've been doing a lot of special events in San Francisco.

And as the festival season hits,

we will be in the festival circuit.

- [Artist] We've had several performances

and they're always just super, super fun.

We all get really excited and creative

and just kind of go with the flow of a topic.

- [Artist] What we all as artists are working to

is how to tell a story

or portray our passion to the audience.

(soft music)

- [Artist] here's so many ways that you can express yourself

through like songs or different movements.

Being able to be really expressive, conveying anger,

passion, or like different emotions.

- [Lina] When I started to do aerial arts,

I was going through a lot in my life

and my dad had just died and I had just got a divorce

and I was really holding on to a lot of anguish,

and this really helped me to have a positive ways

to exert some energy.

- [Artist] It's more motivating

when I have a group of girls doing what I'm doing

to motivate me to be creative.

- [Lina] I believe that most of my girls

live and breathe this.

We are artists and we all have a common goal

to perform our art and bring awareness

to how everyone else can make art.

- I love these girls so much.

It's just a sisterhood of empowering women

that motivate one another just to do better,

push their limits.

I've seen for the last three years, all of us grow so much.

I would recommend anybody to try these things

'cause you can find a passionate for it

and it's just amazing.

(inspiring music)

- For more information,


Minnesota's Tom Richmond makes a living

out of making people laugh with his illustrations.

An artist for MAD Magazine,

he gives us a glimpse into this very specialized art form.

(upbeat music)

- I was a big fan of Batman when I was a kid.

My dad worked at a grocery store

and would bring home comics all the time,

and I spent a lot of time in the basement

drawing my own comics and drawing Batman

and science fiction, Star Wars and that type of thing

and that was what really got me interested in storytelling

and cartooning and doing comics.

(upbeat music)

When I was a kid in elementary school,

I got in trouble doing caricatures.

I wasn't paying attention in class.

I was drawing a caricature while my teacher was teaching

a caricature unit and he made me stay after class

and when he got a load of the caricature I was doing,

he had me go around the school and draw caricatures

of all the teachers and we had a little show.

And that was my first experience actually understanding

these funny pictures of people I'm drawing are caricatures.

(inspiring music)

Cartooning is storytelling in a more of a simplified form.

It's usually funny, but not always,

but caricature is specifically people

and drawing a caricature of somebody

is exaggerating them as a person, not only their features,

but their personality and their presence

and the things that they do.

(inspiring music)

MAD Magazine has been around for 64 years now, I think,

and I finally got into MAD in 2000.

Mostly what I do for MAD these days

are the movie and TV parodies,

which are sort of a staple of the magazine.

You know, they pick a movie and make fun of it.

Right now, I'm working on the latest "Hunger Games" movies,

and they call it "The Hunger Pains."

I think with MAD, you have to caricature,

especially with what I do is important.

And then also having a sense of humor

and writing little visual gags and stuff are important, too.

So this is what's called the layout

and when I get this for MAD,

it's got all the word balloons in place with all the jokes.

It's a two-page spread of the TV show

"Orange Is the New Black."

So this is the final inks for that two-page splash.

And then this is the final as it appeared

in the magazine full color.

So I color most of my work digitally,

and this is what's called a Wacom Cintiq monitor,

which is a tablet that allows you to color.

Here's my inked version of it

and I scan that in and bring it into Photoshop here.

And then what I do is I just start laying in color.

It isn't just a picture of something,

it's trying to get across the message of the article.

So if it's critical about something or somebody,

your illustration should reflect that.

I usually tell it through humor.

Most of my stuff is humorous.

Oh, this is the book I wrote on how to draw caricatures

and it talks a lot about the theories

behind what makes a caricature successful

and what you wanna look for in various faces

and it really breaks faces down into individual shapes

and lots of caricatures throughout the whole thing.

Different celebrities demonstrating

different types of facial features

and different types of exaggeration.

The shape of the head is the really most important thing.

That's where most of the exaggeration goes

because you can really exaggerate the shape of a head

and all the other features have to follow through.

When I started out doing cartooning,

I got this job as a college student doing caricatures

and I started working for this company and they had me move

to Atlanta and run an operation for 'em.

And while I was there, I opened up my own in Atlanta.

Since then, I expanded and I have caricatures

out at Valley Fair

and here at the Mall of America at Nick Universe.

(soft music) (kids screaming)

- Everybody together, it's just you guys.

- I'm first. - You're first, all right.

- There, jump in there, bud.

You ready? (laughs)

well, I think as an artist,

you always wanna gravitate towards the things

that are natural to you.

And when I was going to school for realistic art

and painting, I could do it.

I just noticed eventually that whenever I didn't have

anything specific to do,

and it was just me and a piece of paper

and I could draw whatever I wanted,

I always did funny drawings.

And when I got that job doing caricatures

at a Six Flag park during the summer in college,

I realized, you know what?

I'm a lot better and it's more natural for me

to do the funny stuff.


I'm not looking to change the world. (laughs)

I just wanna make people laugh occasionally

and lighten their day and I love it.

(soft music) (Tom laughs)

- To see more of his work, head to

And that wraps it up for this edition of WEDU Arts Plus.

For more arts and culture,


Until next time, I'm Dalia Colon.

Thanks for watching.

(dramatic music)

- [Announcer] Major funding for WEDU Arts Plus

is provided through The Greater Cincinnati Foundation

by an arts loving donor who encourages others

to support your PBS station WEDU.

And by the Pinellas Community Foundation,

giving humanity a hand since 1969.

(upbeat music)