2014-05-01 / Top News

Renaissance Academy at FGCU extends reach in Charlotte County

Florida Weekly Correspondent

STAUB STAUB Florida Gulf Coast University’s lifelong learning classes, with dozens of classroom sessions, from one-off lectures on a variety of topics to film series, often cater to intellectually active retirees. But the downtown Punta Gorda branch of FGCU’s Renaissance Academy, housed in ample space on the ground floor of the colorful Herald Court Centre, is reaching a broader audience.

It has become an all-ages hub of community activity that gives full freight to the term “life-long learning,” offering training programs for local business professionals, as well as a theater program for children and their parents.

The space itself is a welcoming place for participants or passers-by to grab a cup of coffee, check out new classes, and meet new friends, said Nancy Staub, who heads up FGCU programs here.

“For me I felt like — let’s include the whole community,” she said. “My idea is to try to reach as many audiences as possible.”

Doug Coventry, at left, directs a group of FGCU Theatre Kids at Herald Court Centre. 
EVAN WILLIAMS / FLORIDA WEEKLY Doug Coventry, at left, directs a group of FGCU Theatre Kids at Herald Court Centre. EVAN WILLIAMS / FLORIDA WEEKLY A newborn facility

FGCU takes up about 4,000-square feet at Herald Court Centre, including three classrooms. Works by local artists cover the walls. People hang out at a small lending library and tables and chairs out front.

FGCU is the anchor tenant at Herald Court, a colorful, city-owned structure that includes a public parking garage on the second and third floor with business and office space on the ground level. Herald Court opened in 2009. Its first tenant was FGCU’s Renaissance Academy — operating under the school’s office of continuing education. The school’s presence has drawn traffic to Herald Court Centre, which includes Otherside Ink tattoo shop, the Artisan’s Atelier, Subway and Foot Landing athletic store.

“From our viewpoint, from a city’s viewpoint, it has met our expectations and then some by offering a wide variety of interesting programs,” said Punta Gorda City Manager Howard Kunik.

Artful minds

Doug Coventry runs the FGCU Theatre Kids program at Herald Court Centre. The cooperative requires parents to work along with their children in producing live theater and ballet. The cost of each show is split between the kids and their families, each responsible for raising funds for their share. That depends on the production, but recent shows have run about $250 per actor.

Rehearsals, held in the classrooms at Herald Court, last between eight to 16 weeks, depending on the show.

“The key to our success is really the support of the family,” Mr. Coventry said.

Meanwhile, it is usually an older demographic that frequents the Centre’s myriad continuing education lectures and courses, which generally cost between $18 and $30.

“How to” lectures are popular, as are history lessons from jazz to the “Trail of Tears,” a series covering the forced migration of Native Americans to reservations. A self-defense course was a hit. Studies about Alfred Hitchcock, poetry and Islam have been classroom topics, and the Renaissance Academy keeps an ear open for what people in the community would like to study next.

The instructors range in qualifications, some developing a local following. They might be professors with a doctorate or someone with authority on a specific topic or expertise in a hobby, including how to sell things on eBay.

At the same time, FGCU offers business development courses for local professionals. Restaurateurs, bankers and law enforcement officials can take advantage of programs ranging from management training to social media marketing. A recent Dynamics of Supervision course, with a fee of $175, included 18 hours of classroom training. Business can also bring custom programs for their employees to FGCU Herald Court.

“These are folks coming in taking training right in their own backyard, so they don’t have to go elsewhere,” Ms. Staub said.

Kids and art

Currently, the Theatre Kids are nearing opening night for, “Oliver, With a Slight Twist,” which runs on May 3-4. The play is based on the Charles Dickens classic about an orphan in London, but is an ambitious interpretation with something for everyone. That includes a few Michael Jackson-esque dance numbers and other scenes not in the original.

While the kids rehearse under Mr. Coventry’s direction in one of the Herald Court classrooms, their parents act as supervisors as well as help with costumes, set and other technical needs.

Robin Henderson’s daughter plays the part of a London lady in a scene where orphans steal her hat, glove and scarf. It’s the first time her daughter, Alexandra, 10, has performed in live theater. It’s been a positive experience.

“She has a lot of trouble sitting still, but she does it for them,” Ms. Henderson said.

Lori Revelas, and her 13-year-old daughter, also named Alexandra, have participated in numerous Theatre Kids plays. This time her daughter was cast as Betsy, a street character who steals a locket from Oliver. As a parent, Ms. Revelas serves as costume consultant for the show.

“I’m just a mom who knows how to sew,” she said. “And those are getting few and far between.” ¦

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