SOUTH TAMPA — Matthew Belopavlovich, an instructor at The Patel Conservatory at the Straz Center for the Performing Arts, has a secret.
“The missed aspect of theater is the power that it has within it,” he explained.
Since fall, several students from Young Middle Magnet School in seventh- and eighth-grade have had Belopavlovich come into their school each Thursday for 50 minutes. The goal of the visits is to imbide the youngsters with what he feels is the magic and power found in live theater.
Belopavlovich’s visits are part of The Patel Conservatory’s outreach program, the All Boys Drama Club. The club was founded as a complimentary writing-based activity to the school’s Girl Scout program.
Thirteen boys — who before may have passed each other in the halls without knowing one another — now have had the opportunity to become a family.
“This group is an outlet to discuss issues,” said Belopavlovich. “The boys get opportunities to talk about important topics. Most of the boys weren’t friends and now have formed bonds. One of the main benefits of theater is the family atmosphere.”
And this isn’t your typical drama club.
With Belopavlovich as a guide, the boys created a play from scratch — from writing, rehearsing, set design and music selection. But the program gave them so much more.
Seven proposals were presented by the members as topics to be considered for the club production, including violence in competitive sports, stealing, peer pressure to be violent, bullying and world hunger.
Three topics were chosen and combined into a performance the boys named “Big Kids, Bigger Problems.”
Together ,the boys weaved their story ideas and created a powerful play about bullying, stealing and peer pressure.
“The play is written to influence positive change,” explained Belopavlovich. “The boys write and perform the negative version of the play.”
Dubbed by many to be “theater of oppressed,” this type of play is performed twice, first with the audience only observing. During the second performance, audience members are encouraged to improvise a positive solution, showing those gathered how the community can enact change.
“The process of creating material is what changes the student,” said Belopavlovich. “Putting on a show that gets people talking changes the lives of the people in the show.”
Closed to the public, the All Boys Drama Club will present “Big Kids, Bigger Problems” on Thursday to classmates at Young Middle School, 1807 E. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd.
”At the end of day, with every single new step, the boys are invested and excited. It’s touching and amazing,” said Belopavlovich. “Even if the play isn’t perfect — they were invested and committed. That’s why we teach in the classroom to see those moments — that’s really what it’s all about. That’s the reward — when it clicks and works for them.”
For information, visit www.patelconservatory .org or call (813) 222-1002.