Every weekday after school, the Royal Theater Boys and Girls Club Arts Academy in Midtown buzzes with activity.
More than 80 youths participate in the academy's various arts programs.
Strains of music fill the hallways.
Voices boom from the theater's stage.
Budding record producers hunch over knobs in the academy's recording studio.
Kameo Walker and Anthony Murphy blend right in with the other students. They look like ordinary teenagers, but their dreams are anything but ordinary.
Walker carries herself with poise beyond her 15 years. She dreams of one day dancing with a professional company.
Murphy projects a laid-back persona, but when he talks about acting, he becomes animated and full of passion. The 16-year-old envisions himself performing on a Broadway stage.
The two Gibbs High School students will move a step closer to making their dreams a reality when they participate in prestigious arts programs this summer.
Walker earned a spot at the Ailey School in New York City, a program of the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, and Murphy was one of only 200 chosen out of 6,000 applicants to participate in the Broadway Theater Project, which will take place on the Tampa campus of the University of South Florida.
Herbert Murphy, the Royal Theater's program director and Anthony's dad, said he is thrilled to have two students from the academy make it into nationally recognized programs, and their success exemplifies the success of the 3-year-old arts program.
"We create a support system to the arts," he said. "These kids have both been training for many years. The theater has given them more access and opportunities to display their talents and develop their stage presence and craft."
The Royal Theater program has two tracks. The first helps students develop a lifelong appreciation for the arts and the second hopes to develop successful professional artists.
The elder Murphy said his son and Walker are that second track's first success stories in the theater's short history.
Walker seems to vibrate with energy as she talks about her love of dance and the opportunity to train in New York, where she will take 15 classes a week for five weeks.
She radiates passion.
"It runs through my veins. I can feel the vibration in my ears," she said. "You just have to move."
Walker said her successful audition helped her realize her dream really can become reality.
"I did it. I'm going to get somewhere," she said.
She credits the Royal Theater program with helping her get better at her craft.
"Having different teachers has helped me learn a lot more."
The younger Murphy also benefits from the arts academy. Not only has he received training and experience, he also took the opportunity to teach younger students.
"The theater has helped a lot, especially teaching," he said. It's such a joy to watch them learn the craft and do the work."
Murphy will spend three weeks rehearsing his acting, singing and dancing, and the program will culminate in a performance at the Tampa Bay Performing Arts Center.
Murphy's mother stoked his interest in theater and he took to the stage for the first time in second grade.
"It just comes natural to me," he said. "I'm always performing. I can be taking notes in class and singing a song at the same time. It's just a part of me."
While both students expressed thankfulness for their natural talent and the opportunities afforded them through the Royal Theater, they emphasized that it really comes down to hard work.
Walker's to-pack list provides a hint of the effort ahead.
"I plan to take a lot of Epson salt and Tylenol," she said.
Michael Maharrey can be reached at (727) 893-8779 or firstname.lastname@example.org.