Wednesday, June 13, 2018

Frank Levy's Contributions To Local Theater

The life mission of Frank Levy was to introduce children and adults to the creative world of the theater, and over the past 40 years he did so with enthusiasm, energy and expertise. During that period he directed close to 30 plays, 15 of those for which he wrote the scripts.

His countless theatrical plays, creative consulting gigs, workshops, and "stories in motion" have touched the lives of thousands of young people. While he gave the spirit of New Orleans living much of the credit, he exemplified the Talent Bank philosophy. That is, he used his own talents to help others discover and develop the talent within themselves.

I knew Frank for quite a while, and this blog article shares some of his many accomplishments over the years. Much of this information came from his website, with pictures provided by scores of newspaper articles and photos.

Wine Expert

Frank wrote for numerous publications, directed stage productions, served as a lecturer, a sought-after public speaker, performer, educator and even a wine expert.  "He worked his way through college as a waiter in the Wine Room at Commander's Palace Restaurant and later, he was a sommelier at La Provence Restaurant for 11 years," his website declares. 

Not only that, but "he owned his own wine shop for four years as well as writing wine columns for two magazines. He also taught the Wines of the World course at the University of New Orleans Northshore Campus."

Frank was a teacher and debate coach at Mandeville High for years, and taught writing, speech and dramatics from elementary school through university level for 27 years. In Louisiana, he was a state certified evaluator for talented theater, and he performed one-man interactive shows across the United States, Canada and in eight tours of Australia. How did it all begin? With an appearance on the Ed Sullivan Show in New York when he was eighteen, according to his website.

A Leading Webpage Designer

He was, indeed, a busy guy, and the families of St. Tammany Parish benefited greatly from his artistic contributions. Even in the early field of webpage design, he became an award-winning forerunner in the early 1990's. Frank was a founding partner as well as principal speaker and head writer of a nationally successful website design company, Diamond Bullet Design. 

His work (and specialized training) allowed him to engage in working with large groups who have Post Traumatic Stress. The Red Cross gave Frank special recognition for interactive performances he provided at dozens of shelters after Hurricane Katrina and again for Hurricanes Rita, Gustave, Ike and Harvey. "Over the past 12 years, he was used by Red Cross 44 times," his website states. 


"Frank also taught theater at Southeastern Louisiana University, Media Arts at Tulane University and performed in a highly acclaimed production of Eugene O'Neill's The Iceman Cometh at the Contemporary Arts Center in New Orleans. 

Locally, he was named St. Tammany Parish Performing Artist of the Year and was included the Louisiana State University Library Registry of Performing Artists.

Frank Levy at right with Mandeville High Principal James Huhn at left and student debate winners Leah Russell and Daneeta Shorter back in 1983.

Most of the local population, however, both young and old, came to know him with his work as founding director of the Playmakers Summer Theater Camps in Covington, Louisiana. Frank spent more than 23 years as the "creative force" behind the camps and 44 years as a director at Playmakers. His motto for that venture was:  Every Actor Has Lines, Every Actor Can Choose to Dance, Every Actor Gets to Choose Their Own Part, and (to the benefit of appreciative parents) costumes are provided.

Frank Levy and his wife Bonnie Bess Wood worked as a team, and they offered area young people a variety of opportunities for developing their talents across "a broad spectrum of artistic endeavors. Their original children's plays, interactive programs and instructive lectures toured a variety of venues, including libraries, festivals, conferences and classrooms. The couple tailored each presentation or series of presentations to the individual needs of the audience."

They specialized in what they call "three dimensional storytelling, a  technique that allowed both to work as one, acting and narrating their marvelous portrayals of a multiplicity of worthy tales."

Their story-telling efforts in the unique Levy outreach called "Instant Theater" covered a wide range of resources:  Louisiana Heritage, Historical, or Great Events: from the Louisiana Purchase (1492-1803) to the Battle of New Orleans, and from the Battle of Lexington and Concord to an cross-section of Australian Heritage called "Waltzing Matilda." There was even an Instant Theater production in which the participants chose their own historical, scientific, social or other great event and made it come to life.

In one Instant Theater scenario, Frank became a historical character chosen by the presenter. His specialized performances schools and libraries included Thomas Jefferson, Franz Schubert, Karl Faberge, and Claude Monet.

 Frank Levy as Karl Faberge

"Students can't help getting caught up in Instant Theater," he said. He would enlist audience members as the cast and crew of a theatrical, historical, or famous event performed on the spot. "With wit, charm and a deft turn as narrator, Levy took the group from zero to a full show in forty-five minutes, complete with sound effects, props and even perhaps a pirate ship or a magical cave or two," the website explained.

As a result of his efforts, "Students learned first-hand that the art of theater is accessible to anyone. They learned presentation of self through exposure to fundamentals of acting," he said. "They learn that performing in front of others is not so frightening and that a group working together can produce more than individuals working alone. They especially take with them the valuable lessons contained in the social, historical, literary and other educational elements of each production."


His repertoire of Instant Theater Plays (of which there are over 50 to choose from) included Jewish Folk & Hanukkah Tales,  Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves, Beauty and the Beast, Lil Red Riding Hood, Little Mermaid, Goldilocks and the 3 Bears and a multitude of long-favorite childhood stories and fairy tales. Then there was also Instant Theater performances spotlighting the first Thanksgiving, the story of Columbus, "A Visit with Huey Long," "A Visit with Thomas Jefferson," and the true story of the "Star Spangled Banner." 


In 2011 the children's librarian online podcast interview show featured an interview with Frank Levy. Click here to hear the interview, which was conducted by a student participant.

Frank Levy's Stories In Motion Theater Workshops were a favorite for years. These were the presentations where he directed a group through a "complete theatrical learning experience aimed at putting on a show. Students received instruction in fundamentals of acting, use of props, sound effects, mime, body language and the actual staging and performing of a workshop production."

The Frank Levy Summer Theater Camps were immensely popular with area youth. The theater camp was located at Playmakers Theater in the Sans Souci forest, two miles north of Covington. According to his website, Playmakers Theater was described by one parent as, "a wonderful, enchanted place for a child to go to camp. I wish I had had this opportunity when I was a child." The camp offered personalized scripted renditions of old favorites like Aladin and the Jungle Book.

His many years of producing and directing the summer theater camps resulted in a substantial supply of full scripts for those performances, scripts that accommodated large casts. As another one of his services, he supplied those scripts to others, complete with "EZ poster templates" for producing them on their own. 

Levy's greatest impact, however, came with his tours of area schools, bringing to campuses both local and distant a wide variety of interactive theater programs for students as well as workshops, and performances. 

He taught theater at Southeastern Louisiana University, Media Arts at Tulane University and once  performed in a highly acclaimed production of Eugene O'Neill's The Iceman Cometh at the CAC in New Orleans.

 A scene from "Twelve Angry Men."

On top of all that, Frank traveled around the world as a public speaker. He took part in Speech Consulting engagements in Melbourne, Gold Coast, Brisbane and Sydney, Australia; Toronto and Ottawa, Canada; also Chicago, Dallas, Denver, Detroit, San Antonio, Mobile, Atlanta, New York, Philadelphia, Nashville, Orlando, Miami, Cleveland, Buffalo, Houston, Baton Rouge, all over New Jersey as well as New Orleans.

In 1998 he was the featured speaker in the session named "Making the Connection for the Next Century," at the Louisiana Surplus Line Association in Lafayette, and in 1997, he was a featured speaker at AT&T conferences on Web site design, in New Orleans, Mobile, and Atlanta. He spoke to the New Orleans Police Department also in 1997, and the Goldrush Electronic Banking Conference featured him in a session in San Antonio, TX.

In 1996, he was the featured presenter at an Internet seminar at the Park Royal Hotel in Brisbane, Australia.

One of his favorite performances was when he portrayed Karl Faberge for the SLU Lab School and Mandeville Middle School. In the mid-1990's, he portrayed the artist Claude Monet at a number of area schools and on television, helped narrate performances of the Northlake Performing Arts Society, and took part in a film lecture series entitled:  "Through the Lens, 1995; Film:  The Art Behind the Art, 1994; Great Moments in Film, 1993; and Cinema As Art In The Twentieth  Century, all at library branches in Covington and Slidell.

His lecture series on "Theater and Public Speaking and Creative Writing" at Southeastern Lousiana University was quite popular in 1992 and 1993, and his contributions to the Walker Percy Symposium at the public library in 1992 were well received. Other talks involved "Peer Pressure" (DePaul Northshore Hospital, Covington), and a televised "Education Seminar" (Cox Cable, New Orleans).

His writing credits ranged from local media to more than 30 political campaigns, technical writing assignments, editing and consults for companies in Colorado, Michigan, Georgia, Texas and Louisiana, as well as Australian companies in Brisbane, Sydney and the Gold Coast.

Frank and friend in Australia

His work as Managing Director and Author of the play "Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves and Mother Goose Is Loose"; and Director of Pocahontas and Cinderella, graced the stage at The Discovery Center in 1995 and 1996. In addition he was author and director of the play "T. Petit and the Loup Garou:  An Original Louisiana Creole Folk Tale," and, with his wife Bonnie wrote and directed eight children's plays, including:  The Gargle Needs an Agent, 1994; Flutterby the Blue Butterfly, 1993; The Fat Rat Who Sat, 1992; The Sad Fairy, 1991; and The Cat Who Dreamed She Was A Dog Who Dreamed He Was A Cat, 1990.


His consulting gigs took him to Australia, Michigan, and other points across the globe, and he even served as an Infomercial Writer on the QVC Network and Joan Rivers Show for Sterling Spring Water Filters, in 1994.

His talents were widely recognized. He was featured in Reform Judaism Magazine for his Red Cross work after Hurricane Katrina, and he was listed in Who's Who In Media and Communications, 1997-Present. His scrapbook contains literally dozens of news articles and photographs about his work with children and the schools.

One of the articles details his battle with
multiple myeloma cancer. CLICK HERE for more information.

A number of young people who worked with him through the myriad variety of theatrical productions went on to make a living in the arts and share their talents with thousands of others as well. 

Even those who didn't become artists or actors benefited from his creative perspectives, brightening their lives and all those in the Covington area who witnessed their plays and performances. Playmakers has brought much to its audiences over the past several decades, and Frank Levy played a large part in keeping that spark alive and growing in the young people who have attended his summer camps, workshops, and "instant theaters."

Following Photos are from the Library's Website

See also: