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Director shares love of theater with children

For Trish Davis, executive director of the Circle Theatre School of the Arts, operating a children's theater program is more than just a chance to make the arts come alive for youth.

"I want every child to experience the thrill of being onstage, working hard toward a goal and completing it, and I want them to have fun," Davis said. "After we did 'The Nutcracker,' those kids were so excited. A lot of the kids just blossomed."

Since July, the Avon Park resident and 10 dedicated volunteers have offered a Wednesday theater workshop and an after-school musical arts program at the Champion for Children Circle Theatre in downtown Sebring.

The program encourages kindergarten through eighth-grade students to learn theater basics with vocal training, choreographed dance, guitar and piano lessons.

On simple-acts.org, the website for Davis' theater group, Simple-Acts Productions, Davis writes: "In all things we shall strive to instill the desire for excellence in art, cooperation among young people and a sense of pride in our community."

In addition to "The Nutcracker," Simple-Acts has also staged the comedy "The Big Bad Musical." The theater group has enjoyed crowds of up to 250 people.

Auditions for the group's third production, Roald Dahl's "Willy Wonka, Jr.," which will run in April, were held in January. More than 40 youths between the ages of 8 and 16 vied for parts.

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Born in Texas in 1974, Davis, the daughter of a high school band director, grew up playing piano and bass clarinet while developing a deep appreciation for the cultural arts.

Davis' initial foray into theater production was the Studio Z85 children's ministry at Crossroads Community Church in Avon Park.

She and her husband, Doug, founded the program now called "God's Army," which was taken over by Bill and Cookie Day.

But her dream of having a community-wide theater group for children drove Davis to approach Kevin Roberts, CEO of the Champion for Children Foundation of Highlands County Inc., when she learned of the renovation of the historic Circle Theatre.

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"The Champion for Children Foundation supports wholesome, positive family activities for the community," Roberts said. "I'm all about kids; anything that can benefit kids, that's great. We support Trish, who is working in partnership with the Champion for Children Foundation, to put on quality theatrical productions and provide after-school services."

Half of all proceeds from ticket sales and Davis' after-school program are donated to the nonprofit foundation to help fund theater operations.

Listed on the National Historic Registry, the 90-year-old Circle Theatre at 202 N. Circle Drive was originally a silent movie theater.

It has become an elegant multi-purpose venue with a stage, activities rooms and a Sweet Shoppe and is used for concerts, meetings, weddings and the children's programs.

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Davis' husband, an instructional aide for the auto mechanics applied science class at South Florida State College, also spends countless hours at the theater, doing whatever is needed, including props, lighting and sound.

The theater is a family affair.

Davis' 11-year-old son, Alex Lobozzo, handles stage lights, and her youngest, Andrew Davis, recently appeared in Circle Theatre's production of "The Big Bad Musical."

After "Willy Wonka Jr.," Circle Theatre also plans to perform "Alice in Wonderland" in July and another show in December, Davis said.

In the meantime, art, music and theater day camps will be available during spring break and summer vacation.

"I'm truly impressed with Trish's determination and hard work," Roberts said. "She and Doug are team players, pitching in wherever they can.

"Trish is a dreamer and a doer. She is surrounding herself with a lot of very talented volunteers, and I am happy Trish and Brenda are working so well together," he added, referring to Circle Theatre's manager, Brenda Weldon.

Weldon says of Davis: "She is doing a great job. I believe that Simple-Acts Productions is going to grow to be very popular with the kids in Highlands County. The Circle Theatre is blessed by her efforts!"