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Lovewell Institute:
Channels Chaos in the Name of Creativity
by Julie Levin

Chaos and confusion is welcome at the Lovewell Institute for the Creative Arts. With everyone tossing out ideas at the beginning of each new program, young people find a great outlet to help them realize everything that is bouncing around their heads.

"Making order of all the chaos is a key part of the Lovewell process," said Founder and Artistic Director David Spangler, Ph.D. "Kids learn to trust their creative capacity and their communication skills."

Created in 1989 and based in Fort Lauderdale, the Lovewell Institute has helped thousands of young aspiring actors work in a uniquely collaborative environment that encourages input and from everyone involved, right from the start.

"We are an institute that is dedicated to giving youth a voice through the arts," said Spangler of the not-for-profit group.

Lovewell offers programs throughout the year for people of all ages, but their pre-teen and teen workshops are their signatures. Designed for anyone who has a passion to explore the arts through creativity, the Lovewell Method takes an interdisciplinary approach to collaboration and interaction. Faced with the challenge of staging an original theatrical production in just a few weeks’ time, each session begins with "a guided brainstorming activity" to kick start the creative process. Students are encouraged to express their own ideas, feelings and emotions to try and create a theme for their production.

"We get complete buy in from all the participants and condense it down to a theme very democratically," said Spangler, who teaches at Nova Southeastern University in Davie.

The themes are usually social issues the kids are interested in addressing, such as divorce, domestic abuse and violence, HIV, political corruption and capital punishment. Once a theme is set, the students must also pour their experiences and imagination into working out the plot, music, lyrics and characters for their production.

"They have to create and generate the roles, do their character analysis, figure out who they are oin stage in relation to the theme and each other," said Spangler, who relies on a professional and highly trained staff of dancers, writers, musicians, and designers to guide the students through the process.

Everyone has a hand in seeing the production through. Throughout the process, the aspiring young performers might work on dance one day, then writing or music the next. Many of the students are at-risk youngsters badly in need of a way to express themselves. The production is geared more towards content and participation, then the actual performance.

"The amazing thing is the critical thinking that is going on as they are developing the material," said Spangler.

The Lovewell Institute is currently involved with the "Expressions of Youth" Project with Broward Schools and the United Way. In the past, it has also worked with the YMCA, the Boys and Girls Clubs of Broward County and other community groups.

The Lovewell Institute grew out of Spangler's lifelong passion for music and the arts. Earlier in his career, the songwriter and composer wrote music for the syndicated children's television show Romper Room, which aired on 200 stations nationwide. He recorded kids’ music that was fun, but educational as well. While in New York, he also created a pilot program in area schools with an idea similar to Lovewell’s. It was the kids that decided the content, music, lyrics and dialogue of original productions they created. He got a job in his hometown in Kansas to do the same thing; 150 kids from five schools took part, and the first Lovewell-type show made its debut.

"People saw that show and told me I needed to replicate the idea and make it possible in other schools where I could train people in that method," said Spangler. The Lovewell name comes from a town near where he grew up.

He would go on to incorporate the Lovewell Institute and has since conducted workshops in cities around the world, including New York and Chicago; Riverside, Calif.; Boca Raton, Key West and Marathon, Fla.; Salina and Kansas City, Kan.; Dayton, Ohio; Oskarshamn, Linkoping and Stockholm, Sweden; and St. Petersburg, Russia. There were seven Lovewell programs operating in the past year alone.

Throughout the workshops, Lovewell participants have created over 60 original shows and 600 original songs, many of which have been used by high schools across America and in Sweden. It has also been nationally recognized as an example of “best practices” in arts education and social action and designated by the U.S. President’s Committee on the Arts and Humanities as one of the nation’s most effective arts education programs

Spangler says he is most proud of the impact the method has on those who take part. By making each student a vital part of the production, the young actors learn creative problem-solving, critical thinking, team-building and collaboration. Most importantly, it gives them a voice.

"It transforms their view of the world, of each other and their self. It is holistic in that it embraces education, social awareness and personal and community development," said Spangler.

The Lovewell Institute also offers in-depth summer programs. For more information, visit www.lovewell.org or email David Spangler at David@lovewell.org. You can also reach Lovewell at (954) 599-8552.

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