TAMPA — As the curtain rose on a well-known misfit ogre, 10-year-old Adriana Sanchez bounced forward in her seat, peered through a pair of cardboard binoculars and laughed. It was her first time seeing a Broadway show.
Her mom helped pick out her outfit, a black and white dress with patent leather shoes. Adriana even got to borrow mom's hoop earrings.
Surrounded by peers from Reddick Elementary School in Wimauma, Adriana watched Shrek the Musical Saturday at the David A. Straz Jr. Center for the Performing Arts. "Wow," she said as Princess Fiona took the stage. "This is really cool."
Cool was exactly the reaction Reddick music teacher Ellen Kleinschmidt hoped for when, in November, she submitted a grant proposal to the Community Foundation of Greater Sun City Center seeking $6,000 to take 100 students to the theater.
"This is probably the closest to Broadway many of my students will ever get," she wrote.
Kleinschmidt said of the 600 students enrolled at Reddick, 97 percent receive free or reduced-price lunch. More than 70 children are from farmworker families. Two-thirds are still learning English, and about 20 percent scored a 1 on the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test.
Most live below the poverty line and spend little, if any, time outside Wimauma. Still, they dream of being pop stars or making it big on television. They come to music class eager to learn.
"I wanted to give them this experience to show them what is possible," she said. "If they want to sing, they can sing."
Lewis Resseguie, director of the Sun City Center Community Foundation, was moved by Kleinschmidt's request. He and other board members cleared the grant. The foundation gives about $1 million to the arts each year, he said.
"Exposure to the theater can change a child's life," Resseguie said. "Children with access to the arts thrive. They do better academically and socially."
Children in Grades 4 and 5 went to see Shrek. After the performance, cast members took time out backstage to answer questions and pose for photos.
Out of makeup and dressed in sweats, the actors shared secrets from the show. It takes seven puppeteers to work the dragon and Shrek is in costume 11 hours a day, they dished.
David F.M. Vaughn, who plays Shrek's enemy Lord Farquaad, told the children he discovered his love for acting at his first Broadway show, a production of the Who's Tommy.
"Before that show, I didn't even know live theater existed," he said. "There's nothing like a live show because it's never the same. What you kids saw today, it will never happen again."
Adriana Sanchez said she wants to study acting. She used to daydream about starring in the movies but now, she thinks she might like to try the stage.
"I think it's cool how they just get out there and act and they're not scared of the people watching," she said. "I want to do that."
Sarah Whitman can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.