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Scholarship Interview: Brandy Zarle, Actress

Arts Advocates members may sometimes wonder how impactful a $1,000 scholarship can really be for a student.  I agree that while $1,000 is just a drop in the financial bucket that it takes to earn a college degree, when combined with other funds, that bucket can overflow and result in enabling a student to achieve a stellar career in the arts.

To illustrate my point, this month's 'Where Are They Now?' past-scholar interview is going back twenty-eight years to 1991!  That year, the Fine Arts Society of Sarasota awarded a $1,000 scholarship to Sarasota native Brandy Zarle, a theatre major attending her second year at Southern Methodist University. Brandy ultimately earned her Bachelors of Fine Arts degree from SMU in 1994 and went on to earn her Master's degree in acting from the highly respected Yale School of Drama in 1997.

Fast forward to today and Brandy is a professional actress based in New York City where she lives with her husband Tim Rush "A brilliant actor and wonderful husband who makes every day better." notes Brandy.  Over the past 20+ years Brandy has garnered extensive acting credits in television, theatre and musical theatre and happily shares that now, as an actress in her 40's, her career is the best it's ever been. "I am so grateful for the members of Arts Advocates who had confidence in me all those years ago and gave me the financial assistance I needed to learn my craft." says Brandy.  Let's explore Brandy's journey:

Brandy grew up in Sarasota and studied ballet starting at the age of four at the Ellen Swope Dance Studio.  Her "Aha!" moment came when, as a 10-year-old student attending Sarasota Middle School, her mother spotted an audition announcement in the newspaper for the Booker High School production of the musical Annie.  The audition for that very first role – the lead, no less – is crystallized in Brandy's mind.  "My mother and I recently spoke about my first time singing the popular song 'Tomorrow' on stage during my audition.  I wrapped a newspaper around my shoulders and fully embodied the character.  That audition was truly life-changing for me," notes Brandy, adding "I knew then that I wanted to act."  In her teenage years Brandy spent two summers as an acting apprentice at the Berkshire Theatre Festival and performed with Yale School of Drama students.  "I eventually auditioned in Chicago and was one of the youngest students to ever be accepted into the coveted Yale drama program," says Brandy.

When asked what advice the actress Brandy of today would give to her newly-graduated Yale student in 1997, Brandy simply states "Always remember that what you have to offer is unique and special; no one else has it."  She adds, "I believe if an audition isn't successful it's because I am meant to be doing another role that is yet to come.  That happened a few years ago when I was under consideration for the lead in the world premiere of a new play and I didn't get the part. I was disappointed, but shortly after I earned a guest television role on the popular series Law and Order: SVU.  It was a fabulous role and I loved every minute of playing my character and the experience working on that show."

One of Brandy's earliest television credits was when, at the age of 24, she landed a role as a cocktail waitress on the long-running soap opera Guiding Light. Who among us didn't watch Guiding Light at some point between its run from 1952-2009?  Yes, Brandy was in just one scene of one episode, but it was a speaking part.  A speaking part!  Can you imagine Brandy's excitement that day?  I can't help but wonder which Guiding Light cast members she served drinks to that day (yes, I was a loyal GL viewer).

Throughout her stage career, Brandy has played some of the most iconic female roles in the history of American theatre.  When asked to describe her most immediate thoughts when I name one of her characters or plays, here are Brandy's responses:

Martha in Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? - "Poor, misunderstood Martha.  Playing that role at the Triad Stage in North Carolina was the thrill of a lifetime."

Maggie in Cat on a Hot Tin Roof – "Maggie's story is tragic.  She's rejected all night long, but she's a fighter and stronger than anyone else in the room."

Blanche in A Streetcar Named Desire – "Blanche recreates her reality in order to survive."

Tanya in Mamma Mia! – "The first word that comes to my mind is simply 'Fun'.  Singing, dancing and acting in a play about lifelong friends with some of my own very close friends was fantastic."

"My philosophy is to never judge the characters I am playing," says Brandy.  "I have to tell their story and bring their humanity to the audience.  Yes, the audience will judge the character, but the actor shouldn't."

In addition to performing in theatres in NYC, Brandy has performed in regional theatres throughout the United States including Vermont, New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Virginia, Maryland, North Carolina, Florida, Texas, Utah and more.  She also traveled to Asia for 10 months when she was cast in the role of Joy in Cinderella. She recalls, "We toured Singapore, China, Hong Kong and Thailand and also recorded the original cast album.  I have wonderful memories of that experience and to be able to share it with my husband Tim was icing on the cake."

Brandy's parents still live in Bradenton and it would give me great pleasure to introduce Brandy and Tim to our Arts Advocates next time they visit our area.

Author's Note:  After reading this interview with one of our most accomplished past scholars, I hope you agree that $1,000 can absolutely make a lasting contribution in the life of a student seeking a career in the arts.  I extend my heartfelt appreciation to all of our members – past, present and future – whose donations to our Scholarship funds help further the arts while providing much needed support to the artists.

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Scholarship Interview: Matt Dendy, Violinist


Sarasota violinist Matt Dendy was a five-time Fine Arts Society of Sarasota scholarship recipient from 2005-2009.  Matt graduated from Booker High School in 2005 and attended The University of South Florida where he was Assistant Concertmaster and, in 2010, earned his Bachelor's degree in Music Performance.

It's well known that music can have a profound influence on our lives and that is certainly true for Matt.  After attending a concert featuring violinist Joshua Bell performing with cellist Yo-Yo Ma, Matt told his parents he wanted a violin for Christmas…not the typical request from a toddler!  At just 3 years old, Matt knew that he wanted to play the violin.  Thankfully Matt's parents (or maybe Santa Claus) granted his wish and that year Matt found a violin under the tree and started taking Suzuki lessons.  At the age of six, he began playing with the Florida West Coast Symphony Youth Orchestra and has been performing ever since.

When asked about the contribution his multiple Fine Arts Society scholarships made on his education, Matt notes "Your scholarships played a huge role in my ability to attend college.  Without that support I would not have been able to pursue my music education.  And even with the substantial financial assistance from the scholarships, I still have student loan debt 10 years after college.  Thank you for helping to reduce that burden."

Upon graduation from USF, Matt began his professional music career playing for the Asolo Repertory Theatre and played as a first violinist for The Venice Symphony.   He also performed regularly with The Pops Orchestra of Bradenton and Sarasota, Southwest Florida Symphony and the Florida Gulf Coast Symphony Orchestra.  Matt also played for national and international music festivals and toured Florida with prominent artists like Johnny Mathis, Mannheim Steamroller, Celtic Woman and The Irish Tenors.  Despite these many opportunities, Matt found himself needing to supplement his musician's income by working as a waiter between performance jobs.  He explains, "Even if a musician secures a principal position with an orchestra, it's difficult to earn enough income.  Not only because those opportunities don't open up often, but when they do, the positions may not be full time.  Under those circumstances, it's difficult to have that be your sole source of income."

It was while waiting tables that Matt saw musicians happily playing live music every night in the restaurant.  That was when Matt took a left turn in his career.  "I never thought I would play a 5-string electric violin, but I decided to shift my focus and build a business for myself called SRQ Violinist.  In order to practice new music and expand my repertoire of songs I started playing on the sidewalks of St. Armand's Circle.People were encouraging and eventually I got my first recurring job playing during brunch downtown at State Street Eating House.  That was three years ago and other gigs have since been added including The Cottage on Siesta Key, Art Ovation hotel, Whole Foods Brasserie Honore, Sarasota Waterworks, art galleries and other venues.  I'm very happy, I have control of my career choices and can support my family."  He adds, "Combined with my private engagements playing at weddings and other events, I now earn a living playing live 25-30 times a month all year long.  I've enjoyed playing on yachts, private islands and other unique venues and the interaction with people is great.  I get to play all types of music, from classical to jazz to current popular songs."

When asked to look back and give advice to his 18-year-old self, Matt notes "I would have told myself to think outside of the box and explore all types of music and performance, not just classical orchestral music."

Matt will often use a loop pedal to record himself in a live setting on keyboard and percussion and then play his violin to accompany that music.  To see and hear Matt performing, click the following link:

To view Matt's calendar of upcoming performance venues or to contact him about a private engagement,  click the following link:

Matt and his wife Kim, a third-grade teacher at Fruitville Elementary,  live in Sarasota with their daughters Grace, age 5 and Olivia, age 4.  If you see Matt performing around town, please stop and enjoy his music and congratulate him on behalf of the members of the Fine Arts Society.

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Scholarship Interview: Nicole Riccardo Flutist, Music Teacher and Digital Media Expert


This month's interview is with Fine Arts Society scholarship recipient and flutist Nicole Riccardo.  Nicole graduated Magna Cum Laude from Florida State University with degrees in Music Performance, earning her Bachelor's degree in 2012 and her Master's degree in 2014.  She resides in Austin, TX where she is a professional classical musician, music teacher (in public school and by private instruction in her own studio) and is Founder and President of her own digital media agency.

Born and raised in Sarasota, Nicole explored a variety of art forms before deciding music was her calling.  "Growing up, I was always the creative one in my family.  I took watercolor classes, studied dance and started piano lessons and singing in the choir in first grade.  I picked up the flute in fourth grade, but it wasn't until years later – as I sat listening to my best friend play The Beatles' Let It Be on her violin – that I decided this was what I wanted to do with my life," says Nicole.

As a youngster, Nicole was consistently honored in various Young Artist Competitions.  Among her fondest memories as a young musician include two performances at Carnegie Hall – one with the Sarasota Youth Orchestra and the other with Booker High School.  Nicole credits Booker's college counselor Mr. Lem Andrews with guiding her to apply for scholarships.  She notes, "I am so grateful to Mr. Andrews for encouraging me.  Without him, my flute instructor Betsy Traba (principal flutist with Sarasota Orchestra) and Professor Eva Amsler at FSU, I would not be the musician or person that I am today.  And without scholarships like the one I received from the Fine Arts Society of Sarasota, I would never have been able to afford to attend college."

While in college, Nicole was the Executive Director of Force Majeure Woodwind Quintet.  In addition to playing the flute, Nicole also handled grant writing, artist management, tour management, community outreach, design of print and electronic materials, newsletters, thank you packages, concert programs and notes.   While it may not have been apparent at that time, these actions and acquired entrepreneurial skills would be critical to her future success.

After graduating from FSU there were no sustainable music jobs in sight.  "Going to college to train as a classical musician we are conditioned to believe that the only two sustainable career paths are orchestral musician or college professor, but the reality is when you graduate only a very small percentage of these jobs are actually available and trying to win one takes most musicians YEARS.  So, I ended up in my own worst nightmare…a normal 9-5 job in the medical industry.  I came home almost every night so exhausted that I had no energy left to practice.  My life went from spending the previous fifteen years being consumed by music to having absolutely no time for music.  I spent more lunch breaks than I can count crying in a bathroom questioning if I made the right choices for my life." says Nicole, adding "The breaking point came when I was offered the opportunity to join Josh Groban's Florida tour and my employer wouldn't let me take the time off.  Everything I had worked so hard for was slipping away and I didn't want that to be my future.  I was determined to create the life that I dreamed of so I changed my mindset, set goals and began practicing again.  I implemented all of the branding and marketing know-how I had been building up in my normal job.  I re-did my website, started using social media more intentionally and starting pitching to create the opportunities I had been sitting around hoping would just come my way.  It was a lot of late nights and sticking with it, but I was able to use these skills to create a life where I do what I love every single day and get to help other musicians not have to go through what I did!" says Nicole.

A visit to Nicole's website reveals a tagline:  "Classical Musicians, Meet Modern Marketing."  Just being talented is not enough anymore.  Having a website and printing brochures is not enough, either.  I watched so many talented musicians forced to leave music and have to pursue different career paths in order to support themselves and pay their bills. It's so heartbreaking watching others have to give up on their dreams, and after realizing I had the knowledge to help them, I made it my mission to do just that.  I feel like my calling in life is to help give other musicians the business and marketing know-how they need in order to create their own sustainable and profitable careers." says Nicole.  She adds, "After building my career, I started receiving a lot of messages from other musicians asking how I did it.  This is actually what led me to start the media agency and creating my 8-week digital coaching program for music entrepreneurs where I teach them the step-by-step process I went through when I built my own career."

"Trying to win an audition or an orchestral position is like trying to win the lottery.  Musicians - especially classical musicians - and other creative artists need to take control of their professional futures by doing the things that get them job opportunities by monetizing their efforts." notes Nicole.

Nicole definitely practices what she preaches.  In addition to her online program and media agency, Nicole has a robust social media presence, a blog, multiple podcast interviews, webinars and other media credits.  She is a sought-after public speaker and performer who has held Guest Artist Residencies and performances at the Austin Flute Society Festival, Florida State University, Florida Flute Association Convention, University of Georgia, Mars Hill University and the National Flute Association Convention, with upcoming appearances at the Texas Flute Society, the Boston Flute Festival, University of Texas Arlington, Texas A&M University-Commerce and Texas Christian University.  She has been published online in the Flute Examiner and Flute View and has recently achieved a personal goal of writing for an upcoming issue of Flute Talk magazine.

When asked what led her to Austin, Nicole responded "It's an amazing place for musicians.  Austin is actually the Live Music Capital of the World and prides itself on supporting its musicians in so many ways.  For example, the Health Alliance for Austin Musicians provides health insurance for musicians, which is huge since self-employment doesn't come with benefits.  Not to mention every single middle school and high school in Texas employs a private music teacher for every instrument.  This means musicians can still pursue performing opportunities on nights and weekends because they are teaching during the school day."

I think anyone reading about Nicole's achievements and her efforts to further the careers of other musicians will agree that the Fine Arts Society of Sarasota put our financial support behind the right student!  And while her career is based deep in the heart of Texas, Nicole still has family in the Sunshine State and sometimes subs with the Sarasota Orchestra.  The Fine Arts Society of Sarasota congratulates Nicole on persevering and all of her well-deserved successes and we look forward to seeing what the future holds for this amazing young woman.

Click here to learn more about Nicole Riccardo:

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Scholarship Interview: Adrianne Ansley


Adrianne Ansley was born and raised in Sarasota and is a graduate of the Booker High School VPA program.  Awarded a FASS college scholarship in 2011, Adrianne attended Santa Fe College in Gainesville and then earned her Bachelor of Fine Arts degree from Florida State University, one of our country's top-rated universities for dance.  Now, at the age of 26, Adrianne lives and dances in New York City.  Adrianne's future as a dancer began when, as a third-grade student at Tuttle Elementary School, an after-school activity sign-up sheet caught her attention.  The sign-up was for The Sarasota Ballet's program Dance – The Next Generation (DNG).  "I remember the first session held in our school cafeteria when Program Director Lisa Townsend told us to take off our shoes and socks and try movement called ballet.  We practiced the positions that day—how to coordinate placement of our arms and feet—and I loved it!"  says Adrianne.  She adds,  "I continued with the program and went on to train for eight years with The Sarasota Ballet School.  Without DNG and Lisa Townsend, I would not be where I am today."  Adrianne credits the fantastic Booker faculty, and especially dance teacher Melissa Lodhi, with helping her define the kind of dancer she wanted to be.  "Prior to attending Booker, I had focused only on ballet.  My high school dance classes opened me up to modern, jazz and release technique – postmodernist dance that is not so structured.  Movements are less rigid and not just repetition of an established standard. It's more about releasing the body to think and feel in the moment.  I built on my ballet foundation, but was reignited with ideas, almost like a child unselfconsciously creating movement" says Adrianne.

What does Adrianne recall about being awarded a FASS scholarship?  "My uncle, a college counselor here in Sarasota, encouraged me to apply.  When I found out that I was awarded the scholarship, I just remember bursting into tears.  It meant so much to me to have the recognition and financial support from the Fine Arts Society of Sarasota and I will always be grateful to your organization."

"When I was sixteen, I was invited to participate at a summer program with the renowned Alvin Ailey School of Dance in NYC.  The program was very challenging, but I learned so much in that short period of time and really grew as a dancer. A highlight was my solo in a beautiful Afro-Caribbean piece that opened me up to incorporating my ethnicity in my dance performances.  I was always confident in my auditions, but didn't often see African-American faces or dancers that looked like me in ballet." 

It's common in the dance world for young dancers to descend on New York City right after graduating college and try to make career for themselves.  That is a difficult task and often those dancers return home after a year of struggle due to lack of maturity, lack of preparation, lack of connections and lack of professional experience.  To avoid that outcome, Adrianne returned to Sarasota after earning her BFA in Dance from Florida State.  When Lisa Townsend offered her a teaching job with NG, Adrianne jumped (or, more likely, gracefully leapt) at the opportunity.

"I wanted to have more experience and also give back to the organization that had given me so much.  I wanted the boys and girls to see that DNG is not just an after-school activity, but can be the way to the future they want for themselves."

"I am responsible for community outreach for the Company.  I love performing and teaching and want to share.  My motto is Faith, Focus and Family and I am fortunate to have all three in my life."

Adrianne also taught modern ballet at The Sarasota Ballet summer program and in the Fall of 2016, she made the move to Brooklyn, NY.  Her job as a nanny (which she still holds today) included taking two little girls to dance class where a chance encounter with a dancer she knew years ago led to a successful audition for Adrianne with the dance company TheREDprojectNYC, a self-described community of artistic dare-devils.  Adrianne continues to study and teach dance and perform with TheREDprojectNYC which offers many classes, workshops and community events. She notes, "I am responsible for community outreach for the Company.  I love performing and teaching and want to share.  My motto is Faith, Focus and Family and I am fortunate to have all three in my life."  To learn more about Adrianne and TheREDprojectNYC dance company, click here: 

About The Sarasota Ballet's Dance – The Next Generation: Adrianne Ansley is one of 143 students that have completed their 10-year participation in the DNG program.  Established in 1991, DNG provides an opportunity for those who are most at risk of dropping out of school to participate in a 10-year, full-scholarship program in dance.  The program's goal is to nurture the development of the entire individual through dance with emphasis on discipline, self-esteem and the desire for higher education.  Upon completion of the program and graduating from high school, students may apply for non-dance related scholarships from State College of Florida or USF Sarasota-Manatee.

To learn more, click here:

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The Fine Arts Society of Sarasota, Inc. is a “501© (3) Nonprofit Tax-Exempt Organization licensed in 1969- a charity for Education/School Systems services.” PURPOSE: The organization promotes, encourages, supports and generally furthers the best interests of the arts in Florida and in particular, recognizes, honors and perpetuates the fine arts, creative products and works of Florida artists.


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