Snapshots of the Lovewell Community

Snapshots of the Lovewell Community: A get to know us project

This project was born out of a desire to connect the entire Lovewell Community, to give insight into the personal stories of our students, staff and board members and to invite others to be a part of this world wide web of wonderful humans. It was co-coordinated by one of our fabulous students, Sophie Septoff and Carrie Gilchrist, Artistic Director. Scroll down the page to enjoy entries from Lovewell Community members from around the globe.


Week #1

Snapshot of Carlo Feliciani Ojeda: Connections Create Art

Carlo has always considered himself the “explorer” during the Lovewell process because he enjoys discovering the reasons and connections that turn each single element into a beautiful product.

Carlo’s desire for exploration brought him all the way to Sweden, where his journey lead him to “the reason why Lovewell is one of the most wonderful experiences and communities in the entire universe.” As he walked to the Forum theater with the rest of the LovewellLights, he had what he describes as, “one of the most electrifying conversations of my whole life.” Carlo and his fellow American newcomers attempted to bridge the cultural gap between themselves and their Swedish counterparts. Because Carlo had been born in Venezuela, he spent a significant amount of time trying to discover where his true home was. A Swedish student, Ida, and he discussed their experiences with moving to new places and how doing so can influence their identities.

She talked about her brother, who “wasn’t really her brother.” Astonishingly, he had departed from his home and traveled by any means necessary over 2,000 kilometers from the Middle East to Sweden. That story was so riveting to Carlo that he “could not think about anything else for the rest of the session.” Hearing how children struggled over countless kilometers just to find a better home not only revealed a vital fact to Carlo about the world today, but also lead to the concept of the Lovewell show Fly Firefly. “Those moments, the moments that connect people who live in different places in one glorious session to make art is the reason art should exist,” says Carlo. Carlo’s insight into how vital the connections made with fellow LovewellLights is to the final creation fuels his passion for the Lovewell process.

Carlo Feliciani Ojeda
Lovewell Ft. Lauderdale student since 2011
Lovewell Oskarshamn, Sweden student in 2013
Currently lives in Weston, FL, and hopes to move to relocate for college next year

Helena Sund

Week #2

Snapshot of Helena Sund: Lovewell Means Inclusion

Helena finds it difficult to express how she feels about Lovewell through a single instance. She has never forgotten her experiences, especially as a student who traveled from Sweden to the United States to participate in Lovewell Ft. Lauderdale. In 2006, her first time taking this trip, she says “I was 14 years old and terrified because I had never been so far from home before, and I’d never been to America before.” She especially remembers thinking that it would be challenging to start making conversations with those around her because she was going to be a new person in an already close knit group.

“That was, of course, not the case. Within minutes I was approached by pretty much everyone in the group, eager to strike conversation,” Helena recounts. She recalls that after the first day, even though she still felt slightly nervous and overwhelmed by the new culture and customs, she was “so, so happy” to be completely included immediately.

Fast forward eight years, Helena was going to visit Ft. Lauderdale and had not done so since her last stay as a student in 2007. Again, she felt the anxiousness that comes with seeing old friends after such a lengthy separation. “Would they be different? Was I different?” she thought. Again, her fears vanished instantly. Though many years had gone by, “it was as if no time had passed at all, and if anything I felt as if we had all grown closer together. That’s one of the many beautiful things about the Lovewell Community.” Once a part of the community, always a part of the community.

Helena Sund
Student in Linköping & Oskarshamn, Sweden since 2005
Lovewell staff member in Oskarshamn, Sweden since 2015
Currently lives in Stockholm, Sweden

Kate Lindsay

Week #3

Snapshot of Kate Lindsay: Apart of Something Special

The year was 1993 and Kate Lindsay was teaching at South High School in Salina, Kansas (which happens to be the birthplace of Lovewell Institute). She had many students (including Nathan Tysen, Carrie Gilchrist, Ryan McCall, Jamie Johnson and John Henningsen Nathan Tysen, Jamie Johnson, Ryan McCall, Carrie Gilchrist and John Henningsen) involved in a summer workshop called Lovewell Institute. After witnessing first hand how her students benefited from Lovewell she knew she “wanted to learn more about the program and be a part of it as well.” Though Kate mostly worked as an administrator for Lovewell, “back in the day,” her favorite part was maneuvering herself into some of the creative sessions. “I enjoyed those moments a lot- being a part of a group that is brainstorming, discussing, and dissecting,” says Kate. She recalls the indescribable feeling that came if “a phrase, a melody, or a line ended up in a scene.” Even if an idea did not end up in the show, it had the potential to light a spark in someone else’s mind and turn into something beautiful. After experiencing a few of these moments during creative sessions herself, Kate knew that the students involved were getting a unique opportunity to know what it means to be apart of a true collaboration where everyone benefits from the outcome. This week, Kate has brought Lovewell back to Salina, Kansas (for the first time since 1997) and into her classroom. Lovewell staff members, Carrie Gilchrist and Nils-Petter Ankarblom, are working with her Repertory Theatre Class to create a brand new one act musical in just one week. Kate has had the pleasure of assisting Carrie and Nippe throughout the week and says that she has loved witnessing these two work with her students to create the ‘light bulb’ moments that hopefully will stick with them for a long time to come. In closing Kate wanted to send this message to the Lovewell Community: “My thanks to all the Lovewell staff members who work with the students…and my thanks to the students who take those leaps, who dare to risk, and shart their ideas with each other and with their audiences.”

Kate Lindsay- Lovewell Administrator In Salina, Kansas in the 1990’s
Current Lovewell Staff in the Salina, Kansas workshop happening this week

'17 Stephanie Prince Head Shot

Week #4

Snapshot of Stephanie Prince: Spreading the Lovewell Love

Stephanie likes to tell people that she entered Lovewell through the back door. “My first exposure to Lovewell was when I directed “The Weight Of Words” (written in 2011 in FLL in partnership with Nova High and the Broward Office of Prevention) for the Central Ohio Thespian area conference,” says Stephanie. After licensing that show from the Lovewell Catalogue, she thought the experience was so amazing and influential that she continued her Lovewell journey as vocal director for another Lovewell Catalogue show, “Layers of Leo” (Lovewell Sweden 2011) at Dublin Scioto High School. A lot of the Lovewell community has started as a student in the program, writing their own shows, but Stephanie began with the end product and worked her way back to a process.

“After working on both of those Lovewell Catalogue shows, I realized that I had to see how Lovewell worked, so I packed my bags and flew to Sweden, and my life changed forever,” exclaims Stephanie. She was blown away by this kind of collaborative work that she had never been a part of before. Stephanie found it amazing “to see students and staff collaborating and creating and watching the story come to life.” It changed the way she approached art, irrevocably.

Not only did she love the process, but she completely fell in love with the people of the Lovewell Community. Though at first she was worried about being an outsider in a close-knit group of people, Stephanie soon realized that there is no such thing as an outsider in Lovewell. Since her experience in Sweden, her school has licensed two more Lovewell Catalogue shows- “Women of Whitechapel” (Lovewell Sweden 2012) and “The Alternate” (Lovewell FLL 2012).

Additionally, she feels fortunate to have been a part of the first Lovewell in Columbus, Ohio (in partnership with Short North Stage ) in June of 2014 (entitled “Hi, Alba!”) and to continues to be part of the Lovewell Columbus Community and growth process. Lovewell, and the connections to the people and processes around the world, “has changed me in so many ways, making me a better artist, a firm believer in collaboration, and a kinder person. I am forever grateful.”

Stephanie Prince
Lovewell Staff member in Columbus, Ohio and Oskarshamn, Sweden
Currently lives in Columbus, Ohio

Shelly Bernstein

Week #5

Snapshot of Shelly Bernstein: A True Lovewell Mother

Shelly Bernstein became involved with Lovewell when her oldest daughter’s, Tobi, high school drama teacher told her about the summer workshop. “I was amazed, sitting in the audience at what these kids had created,” says Shelly about one of her favorite Lovewell shows, “Sidetracked” (Fort Lauderdale 2001). Shortly after that summer, she joined the Lovewell community as the merchandise coordinator, then a member of the Board and finally, she is now an Administrator year round for the organization. Shelly often says, “I am the luckiest middle aged women in the world. I get to spend my summers surrounded by the most creative, collaborative, loving, talented, amazing group of people.”

Shelly recognizes that Lovewell finds something special in everyone. As an Administrator and parent, she has seen students do things they never thought they would, and leave the summer more confident than they ever thought they could be. “Lovewell is not a summer camp. It is a workshop teaching life lessons such as trust, collaboration, problem solving, and friendship. It has shown me that the group is so much more important than the one,” says Shelly.

She finds it difficult to put into words what Lovewell means to her and her children. Seeing the incredible impact on her entire family, but especially noting what it has done for Tobi. Shelly proudly explains that “Lovewell was a big part of making her into the confident amazing person she is today.” Shelly fondly remembers when Tobi stood on stage and sang for the first time; or when her daughter Meagan spent an entire show never speaking a word as she was helping with choreography; or when her youngest, Hallee, reminds her of the first lyrics she came up with during a Lovewell teen process and beams. All of these moments make Shelly realizes how many important lessons her beautiful children have learned and the amount they have grown because of their time at Lovewell. Shelly’s pride does not end with her own children, in fact, “I cry each and every summer, to see a child who could barely make eye contact with me at the beginning of the summer, stand on stage and deliver their lines loud and clear. It makes me so proud.”

“I wish everyone was as lucky as I am- spending the summer with my children, kids who have become like my own children and the countless number of creative, collaborative, loving humans who are part of Lovewell is priceless. I am honored to be part of this global community of artists. And, as i said before, I am the luckiest middle aged women in the world.”

Shelly Bernstein- Lovewell Administrator
Mother of 3 Lovewell student/staff members for 13 yrs & counting
Currently lives in Pembroke Pines, Florida

'17 Laura Galindo Head Shot

Week #6

Snapshot of Laura Galindo: Discovering Her Path

Laura, a current student at NYU Tish, thrives through her creativity and musical talent. She attributes the realization that a musical career is genuinely possible to Lovewell Institute.

While in high school, with a passion for keeping busy, Laura eagerly filled her summers with Lovewell workshops. She says, “I like to think I take a small part in every aspect of the Lovewell process and find a lot of joy in the first week of brainstorming and writing process. But, I’d have to say that my instinct always points towards the musical aspect of the show.” As she grew during each process, this innate gravity toward music grew stronger and stronger.

Identifying the singular moment when her perspective about a music career changed, Laura knows it occurred during one of her first Lovewell Ft. Lauderdale shows. She was fourteen years old and in the process of creating “Roots of Red.” “Our director, Nathan Tysen, sent me into a room and asked me to come out with a song. I’d written songs before but never took it all too seriously,” remembers Laura. This task “meant the world” to her coming from “someone who I respected who was trusting me with something that I felt was so precious.”

Laura recounts that “I picked up the guitar and wrote a couple short songs that were put into the show.” This experience changed her forever. That day, she realized that people out there want her hear her voice and will get excited about and listen to the music she creates “even if I wrote a couple flops.” Laura admits, “That gave me the confidence to keep writing music that I can be proud of.”

“Everything I have written since then and everything I will ever write comes, in no small part, from what happened in that room,” recounts Laura.

Most recently, she has been working as a staff member on the original Lovewell show ”Civil Shadows”, which opened yesterday in Brooklyn, New York. It seems that this is just the very beginning of a lifetime career in the arts for the incredibly creative Laura Galindo.

Laura Galindo
Currently lives in New York City, NY
Lovewell Ft. Lauderdale Student and Alumnus for the past 6 years

Week #7

Snapshot of Mats Petersson: Only the Beginning

“My Lovewell story began in the spring of 2003,” says Mats, as an 18 year old in his last years of music high school in Oskarshamn, Sweden. He recalls, “we were told by our teachers that an American composer with Broadway and TV credits was coming to tell us about an opportunity for us to participate in a summer workshop.” Intrigued, though he already had his guitar-loving heart set on going to the so-called ”Freak Guitar Camp” with famous Swedish guitar player Mattias ”IA” Eklund.

“Nonetheless, my high school friends and I went to the concert hall of our school and were greeted by an enthusiastic American fellow by the name of David Spangler, who started talking about musical theater and writing music,” remembers Mats. He became more and more engaged in the presentation as it furthered, “albeit reluctantly so, because at the time I was only moderately interested in musical theater.” Mats admits that,”the songwriting aspect really struck a chord (pun intended) with me.” By the time David sat down by the grand piano to perform ”Everything Is Possible,” Mats felt “like I could write and accomplish anything if I so desired.”

Mats talked with David for a minute after the presentation and was left with a pamphlet about the summer workshop, that he called Lovewell, and the words ”I hope to see you again this summer.”

After telling them all about Lovewell, “My parents were nothing but excited about it, but they also asked me ‘but what about the guitar camp you’ve been going on and on about?’”Mats, realizing he could not do both, took some time and some good advice from his parents to, eventually decide to give Lovewell a shot. “After all, I could attend the guitar camp any other summer and this Lovewell thing, for all I knew, could be a once in a lifetime opportunity,” he fondly reminisces.

Now, Mats jokes that ”little did I know that those three summer weeks would change my life forever.” After meeting the “wonderful group of fellow students and a truly inspiring staff” and experiencing “the true joy of collaboration,” they performed an amazing show together. “It just so happened, that I also met and fell in love with David Spangler’s oldest daughter, Marjorie, who was a fellow student in the workshop, and we’ve been inseparable ever since,” says Mats.

Soon after that first summer he moved to the U.S. to pursue an undergraduate degree in music and began music directing for Lovewell workshops in Florida and Sweden. Since then, he has been on music staff for over 20 Lovewell workshops. He expresses that ”I feel so so lucky for all the life-long relationships (personal and professional) that I’ve made through all of these creative collaborations over the years. It’s absolutely mind-blowing to think back on that day 12 years ago when I changed my summer plans in order to come to Lovewell, and how much joy, laughter, hard work, pride, amazement and wonder that decision has brought me.”

Mats has the deepest gratitude to his 18-year-old self for making what he knows know to have been the ‘right decision’. “And, as far as I know, ”Freak Guitar Camp” is still around if I ever wanted to check that out,” he jokes.

Mats wholeheartedly believes that his Lovewell experiences are to thank for basically “all the good things that have come my way in life thus far; from my great job teaching music, to my university degrees, to meeting Marjorie and some of my very best friends in the world.”

“Thank you, Lovewell!”

Mats Petersson
Currently lives in Lund, Sweden
Staff since 2005 and Vice President of the Lovewell Sweden Board
Student in 2003-2004

Week #8

Snapshot of Nils-Petter Ankarblom: The Chain of Change

In February of 2016, Lovewell history will be made. Rehearsals will begin for the Broadway production of “Tuck Everlasting” which opens on April 26th at the Broadhurst Theater in New York. This piece was written by Lovewell staff members Nathan Tysen (Lyrics) and Chris Miller (Music) and Nils-Petter Ankarblom (long time Lovewell Music Director) will be the Associate Conductor. “None of this would have been possible without Lovewell,” explains Nils-Petter (nicknamed Nippe- pronounced Knee-Pay).

In 1996, Nippe and his brother were “two young musical theater nerds in Sweden, and back then if you were a musical theater nerd in Sweden you were very lonely.” In fact, musical theater acted as a tourist attraction in the major cities in Sweden at that time. Looking back, Nippe remembers “when I was 10 my brother (Karl-Johan Ankarblom) and I had been hooked by “The Phantom of the Opera”; the music, the grandeur, the spectacle and the 100% identification with the weird composer guy who doesn’t get the girl.” Lucky for all of us, these boys had each other and pursued music together and could support each other in a “positively competitive way.”

“One day, in 1996, my brother came home from his high school and said that they had been visited by a Broadway composer that day and that there would be a musical theater workshop happening in Oskarshamn, Sweden (the bigger town 30 minutes away from us) that summer,” says Nils-Petter. David Spangler, Founder of Lovewell, was that composer and this workshop was the very first Lovewell workshop in Sweden.

Both boys, knowing they had to attend, filled out applications, applied for scholarships (and received one), and went to Lovewell that summer and say they were absolutely transformed. They found a place where their passions were fueled, where there were young, creative artists who were like minded people and gave them the inspiration that every writer needs. Nils-Petter reminisces, “that summer we heard our songs performed on a stage for the first time, in our musical “Backstage Story”. Life altered. Friends for life made. Unforgettable experiences.”

For Nils-Petter, the 20 years since then have been a journey of working to “acquire the skills needed to create the art that blew me away when I was a kid; composition, orchestration, songwriting, music production- all the craft that is required along the way.” He says that Lovewell showed him, and so many others, that “there are other skills beyond the purely artistic that are needed to be a successful artist: how to be a good collaborator, how to be good to yourself and others, how to take care of your creative mind, be self-motivating, remain focused, all these things. Lovewell, and the affirmations especially, showed me that art can be created in a way that is absolutely joyful and fulfilling which also lets you be the best artist you can ever be.”

“I am deeply involved in Lovewell today, and will continue to be so, because of how it has changed me and because of how I see how it changes people in each and every workshop around the globe. Everywhere I go, every project in which I am a part, I use what was first shown to me at Lovewell, may it be on Broadway or anywhere else. Thank you, Lovewell.”

Nils-Petter Ankarblom
Currently lives part time Fort Lauderdale and part time in Sweden. Moving to New York in February 2016
Lovewell Music Director since 2003
Student in 1996


Week #9

Snapshot of Cecilia Träff: Lovewell in 5 Senses

When asked about the Lovewell process, Cecilia confesses her unique classification of her experiences through her five sense.

She feels the community “holding hands in a circle right before the opening of the show (a little sweaty and with squeezes of nervousness and excitement) or lying on the hard floor during affirmations.”

She smells the amazing “humans in a hot room doing dance warmups, or of smoke and melting chocolate while making s’mores on disposable bbq’s.”

She tastes “all kinds of food being consumed during many Lovewell weeks, everything from Mrs. Iden’s wonderful lunch boxes during my Fort Lauderdale stays, to the peanut butter and jelly sandwich hype happening in Oskarshamn, Sweden last summer (I’ve been craving them ever since).”

And, last, of course, Cecilia hears the Lovewell sound. “Songwriting, vocal warmups, brainstorming, harmonizing, laughing, crying, playing instruments, talking, talking, talking and more.”

But for Cecilia, whose Lovewell journey consists of taking beautiful pictures of smiling faces, making hundreds of memorable designs and creating telling bios, Lovewell is “about the visuals.”

From her first Lovewell experience as a sixteen year old she says, “I have always kept my camera close. I’ve done various photo projects about Lovewell, but most of all I just love capturing the endless moments of excitement, love, joy and hard work.” Cecilia knows that an image cannot express all that Lovewell does, but she admits that “my goal is to come as close as possible. And going back to my second Lovewell workshop was actually the reason that I bought my first DSLR camera, which later set me on the path to becoming a professional photographer.”

Besides being a Lovewell photo taking celebrity, Cecilia has also helped design many of the show posters. She explains,”it’s such a wonderful challenge to try to capture the spirit of a Lovewell show in one image. And whatever sense is triggering a memory, there is always a picture attached to it.” She sees her friends, the shows, snapshots from the processes, and they all fill her “with a feeling of thankfulness, love and belonging.”

Cecilia cannot pinpoint one moment of Lovewell that shines above all the others, because they all stand strong in her mind. “The reasons I come back to Lovewell are many, but one of the main ones is the reminder of boundless creative power. Lovewell has made me aware of my own creativity, and through Lovewell I am constantly blown away and inspired by other people’s creativity as well,” says Cecilia. It amazes her how much can be accomplished through collaboration. Cecilia adds that, “the other main reason is the people- all of the wonderful human beings I’ve had the pleasure of meeting throughout the years. Some I have not seen outside of the three weeks of a process, some I have almost daily contact with, but we are all part of this community.” Whether in connection through a summer program, reminiscing at a yearly Lovewell Alumni Songbook Concert, visits during trips across the world, meeting old friends and making new ones is such a wonderful part of Cecilia’s life as a LovewellLight.

“And while waiting for any of those to happen again, I listen to the newly released second album and enjoy the memories it brings.” Yes, that is a hint that you should download the album now!

Cecilia Träff
Currently lives in Sundsvall, Sweden
Lovewell student from 2005-2008 and staff from 2009 through present day
Involved with over 30 Lovewell productions through posters, playbills, photos, videos

'17 Brian Brant Head Shot

Week #10

Snapshot of Brian Brant: A Lifelong Process

In 2009, Brian, a twelve-year old in the 6th grade at University School of NSU, was always interested in theatre having already performed in two productions his first year there. Through theater, Brian became very good friends with a Lovewell alumni who constantly about “a summer program she had been a part of since elementary school.” After numerous conversations about Lovewell, Brian decided to apply.

Recalling the nerves built inside him, Brian was “wondering what the process would be like and what it would entail.” But, he took the leap and in June of 2009, Brian and fellow Lovewell juniors created, “Cut Short: A Musical To Die For.” Excited about the piece he helped create, Brian did not “fully realize the power of Lovewell until he sat in the audience” watching the show (“Daybreak”) the teens workshop had created at the very same time. Sitting there in the house, he discovered that “Lovewell is not a program to perform a show; it is a place to celebrate collaboration and creation.”

That night, Brian told his parents he wanted to apply for the second session and since then he has been forever connected “with the people, the affirmations, and of course the process itself.”

Brian’s Lovewell journey has led him to create 12 shows in Fort Lauderdale and Sweden to date. He feels his favorite Lovewell moment is when he first arrived in Sweden and “pulled up to the Oskarshamn Folkhögskola” for the first time. He can also not leave out the moment in his first Lovewell Sweden show where he blew up in a mine-field on stage. Who could forget that?

Ultimately, Brian “cannot imagine life without Lovewell,” his “forever friends,” and the staff that has inspired him so deeply. Seven years later, his Lovewell experience inspired him “to study Radio/Television with a minor in Theatre at the University of Central Florida in Orlando.” He knows he can use his “boundless creative power” in any future endeavor. In the summer of 2016, Brian will continue his Lovewell story and welcomes the Lovewell moments that await him.

“Thank you Lovewell for changing my life.”

Brian Brant
Currently lives in Orlando,FL
Lovewell student in Ft. Lauderdale and Oskarshamn

Harry Harrysson

Week #11

Snapshot of Harry Lundin Harrysson:

*Disclaimer: Harry wrote this in Swedish and then his parents translated it into English for your reading pleasure.

Harry Harrysson is ten years old today, but he is proud to say “I did my first Lovewell show when I was only 6 months old. That was in “Livstecken – a musical gift” in 2006 (Linköping, Sweden).” Both of his parents (Emelie Lundin and Henrik Harrysson) were on the staff for Lovewell Sweden that year which allowed him to have this special part in Lovewell’s production, despite his age. No one will forget when Cassie Spangler, then a student and now a staff member, carried the very adorable, baby Harry out onto the stage for the opening sequence. Lovewell history was made!

“My parents have been a part of the Lovewell Community since 1994 (mother) and 2003 (father) and our family has made many fun friends for life thanks to that,” says Harry. He looks forward to seeing them every summer and always has a great time reconnecting.

Harry proudly states, “I’ve also been a part of three Lovewell Junior programs in Oskarshamn, Sweden in 2012, 2013 and 2014. My favourite show was “Frihetsjuvelen (Freedom Jewel) – en musikalisk legend” in 2014.” He really liked the story they created which took place in ancient Egypt.

Harry would like to tell the Lovewell Community that “I like Lovewell because we get to play creative games, have fun and make new friends. When I get older I would like to try and direct a show. It seems really cool to be the one who gets to conduct a whole group into telling a story together.”

Harry Lundin Harrysson
Currently lives in Gävle, Sweden
Lovewell Student since 6 months old


Week #12

Snapshot of Jamie Johnson: Lovewell’s Legacy

“It’s taken most of my life, but I think I’m finally comfortable with feeling like I have no idea what I am doing,” begins Jamie, when asked about her Lovewell experience. She explains how each Lovewell proccess has challenged her in a different way—”we have way too much to do in too little time, we have to run equipment we are completely unfamiliar with, we have students with wildly different backgrounds, we have to navigate all this in a different country (!), etc.”

Jamie used to dream of the day that “I would finally find my sea legs in regard to Lovewell; the day I could confidently say ‘I’ve got this.’” Though Jamie has definitely felt those kind of moments, she recognizes that they are fleeting, “and that is a GOOD thing!”

“It has made me so much more brave in my creative work outside of Lovewell and helped me to realize that I don’t have to know what I’m doing all the time. That is so freeing!” shares Jamie. With the help of Lovewell, Jamie has learned to accept the creative challenges that inevitably come her way during this scary process.

Jamie is beyond thankful for “all the incredible people I have met as a result of my Lovewell work. Seeing students grow up and become absolutely phenomenal adults has to be the most gratifying part of this work – whether they go into theatre or not, I like to think their time with Lovewell has a lasting impact. That’s our legacy, I think – creating a safe space for people to be themselves and then encouraging them to take their best parts out into the world. I love that!”

Jamie Johnson
Currently lives in Lawrence, KS (the Berkley of the Midwest)
Lovewell student from 1994-1999
Lovewell staff member from 2003-present day

Week #13

Snapshot of Brian Chiou: Becoming Who I am

“I first became involved with Lovewell when I was a part of Dublin Scioto High School‘s production of “The Women of Whitechapel” (the original Lovewell Sweden show licensed by Scioto) in fall 2013. My first Lovewell workshop was the Lovewell Columbus workshop in 2014 (in partnership with Short North Stage),” says Brian.

Lovewell holds “such a special place in my heart” due to the experiences and creative people, who “inspire me far beyond the summer workshop sessions.”

Brian notes that last summer particularly sticks with him since he had the opportunity “to attend Lovewell Fort Lauderdale session two with my best friend, Jacob Miller, and I got to meet so many wonderful people that have made me a better person and theatre artist.”

Brian confidently admits that “if I hadn’t had gone to Lovewell in Fort Lauderdale last year, I wouldn’t be the person I am today. That sounds cliché, but I’ve taken so many things from that workshop and applied them to my daily life.” After attending Lovewell Fort Lauderdale, he picked up on a number of new skills and trades, like rediscovering music through playing guitar and piano (influenced by Laura Galindo, Samuel January, and Lilly Gitlitz) and directing and writing from director and personal role model, Tyler Grimes.

Since beginning with the organization, Brian has brought “the Lovewell spirit into my everyday life. Every person that I’ve come across in all the Lovewell workshops have impacted me in their own special way, and I have them to thank for all the great memories and experiences I’ll take with me for the rest of my life.” As he makes the journey to college, Brian hopes to study theatre in any way possible, whether that’s Theatre Production and Design or Theatre Education.

“I think theatre allows people to express every part of themselves, parts people may not know they even had, and it has boundless potential to inspire and connect people from all different walks of life. I hope to one day inspire through theatre, the way Lovewell has inspired me.”

Brian Alexander Chiou
Currently lives in Columbus, Ohio
Began as a Lovewell performer in 2013 and student in 2014- present (Columbus and FLL)

Week #14

Snapshot of Harriet B. Mathis: A Guardian Angel and Historian

“My Lovewell experience began in 1996, and I have yet to attend a Lovewell Workshop as a student!” exclaims Harriet.

When she first met the founder of Lovewell through a mutual friend, she found herself “drawn in to his vision for offering a cultural community where artists of all ages could create original works in a safe and nurturing environment.” She then decided to seize this opportunity to use her impressive organizational skills for “an exciting, and inspiring goal by setting up a solid business foundation for Lovewell Institute.”

There are few non-profit organizations that have Board members who are still happily serving after 19 years. Lovewell has two: Abraham Fischler, PhD, Pres. Emeritus of Nova SE University and Harriet Mathis. “There has to be something special in an organization to generate the kind of commitment that keeps on growing. I believe the magic of Lovewell is the non-judgemental, creative energy that staff, students and their families cultivate when they come together,” shares Harriet. She says has yet to attend a Lovewell event where she did not feel this spirit of community and support.

In 1995, Lovewell formed its first partnership with the Boys and Girls Clubs of Broward County Florida as the core of an after-school program and staged performances at Parker Playhouse in Fort Lauderdale. Then, by invitation from Elajo Invest AB in Oskarshamn, Sweden we conducted our first International Cultural Exchange Workshop and performance. “Nils-Petter Ankarblom and his brother, Karl-Johan Ankarblom, were students in the very first Lovewell Sweden workshop in 1996″ remembers Harriet as she was there, helping to organize the whole exchange.

Long ago, some would refer to Lovewell as a “Mom and Pop” organization and Harriet admits it was that for quite a few years. But now those years are over. Harriet fondly remembers that “the passion and commitment to the mission of Lovewell never flagged and I kept up until changing technology and sheer numbers overtook my capacity.”

Fortunately William E Shoemaker, had joined the Board by then to offer professional accounting and financial resources and Lovewell had several very dedicated working board members. “I especially remember Debra Frenkel who served as President and guided development of our first official five year plan to qualify for grants. Directors Jana Malina-Sigers JD retained the patent and trademark for the Lovewell Marks; and Lori FayeFischler, JD coordinated Strategic Planning. My relationships with board members, staff, students and parents during those years hold warm memories” remembers Harriet.

“In 2004, Carrie Gilchrist arrived in Fort Lauderdale with the offer to make Lovewell Institute a career. The world was waiting. We have all seen how Lovewell has taken it on.”

“For me, holding a place for the highest expression of the Lovewell mission has been my special joy and satisfaction.” Harriet sees how the affirmations that some were first afraid to speak of, “in fear of them being labeled ‘cultish’, actually work their magic to create an international network of Lovewell alumni whose lives are lifted and whose commitment to each other and the Lovewell mission continues to affect future generations. She so wisely states, “I have learned that our personal journey can be a parallel to our commitment.”

“Life couldn’t get much better than this. Thank you, Lovewell.”

Harriet B. Mathis
Currently lives in Fort Lauderdale, Florida
Involved with Lovewell as its Guardian Angel for 20 years
Current Board Member

Week #15

Snapshot of Maddie Musso: A Story in the Making

The lovely Maddie has been involved with Lovewell Institute for the Creative Arts since her older sister, Julia Musso, collaborated on her first show (“Goodnight Jane”) five years ago. After watching her sister go through the process, Maddie participated in her first Lovewell Junior workshop last summer (“The Curse of Concordia”) and her first Annual Lovewell Alumni Songbook Concert this past January.

Enjoying the creative arts in a variety of disciplines, Maddie has always loved to cook (baking special cakes for loved ones and friends), draw, paint pottery, act, sing in her school performance chorus and spend many hours in the dance studio!

Collaboration is absolutely one of Maddie’s biggest loves during the Lovewell process. Not to leave out making new friends with all kinds of people and creating new works of art, performances and memories that will last her a lifetime.

Maddie is a supportive friend in the creative process and encourages her peers to express themselves and honors their growth and creativity!

Madeline Grace Musso
Currently lives in Plantation, FL
Lovewell Junior student since 2015 and supportive sister of Lovewell Alumni for the past 6 years

Jamie Cohen

Week #16

Snapshot of Jamie Cohen: A Source of Boundless Creative Power

“I really don’t know who I would be without Lovewell, because I’m finding more and more that creativity is the core of my existence,” claims Jamie, when asked about her relationship with the organization. She recently found a book on her dad’s bookshelf entitled “Raising Children Who Think for Themselves” and was curious to see what insight it could bring into her upbringing. She recalls fondly that “it recommended creating a supportive environment in which all ideas are entertained, children are trusted, and treated with the same dignity and level of respect as other adults. Essentially, it described the ten years I spent as a student at Lovewell.”

Jamie categorizes Lovewell not only as a place for the arts but more as a place to learn how to manifest creativity into something tangible. “At Lovewell, you’re working with creative people and what I’ve found over the years is that creativity is this extraordinarily personal experience,” says Jamie. With this, Jamie has realized that any person who puts out creative work essentially puts out a piece of themselves. Remembering the Lovewell processes in which she was a student and the struggle with “egos, some big, some small,” she notes ” you have to know how to make everyone feel included.” Though Jamie believes that experienced Lovewell Lights know the secret to collaboration is “foregoing ego and practicing the basic principles of kindness, outside of our community it’s a little different. Having years of seeing different group dynamics pan out, different ideas fly and flop, and different people grow and mature as collaborators has made me the strong leader I am today.”

Currently, Jamie studies Computer Science at Vanderbilt, unlike most of her artistic friends who chose a performing arts path. “But I find more and more that the tech community is just another iteration of vulnerable, creative people, I just don’t think it’s commonly viewed that way. I know it probably doesn’t make sense that I’d spent ten summers of my life writing musicals and now I write code, but it’s about process. For me Lovewell is about bringing people together to make something and that’s what I intend to do in just a slightly different context.”

Jamie states that all her years at Lovewell did imprint this immense appreciation for the arts and has certainly removed many of her inhibitions about taking creative risks. “I’m constantly making up little artistic side projects, playing with different mediums and locations, and seeking out new forms of expression.” She says Lovewell taught her to take full ownership of her creativity and to pursue ideas simply because she wants to—no justifications necessary. Jamie is “always in awe of how the Lovewell community is just this hotbed of talented artists and creators bouncing ideas off of each other, collaborating, commiserating, and all celebrating together. It’s an incredible community to grow up in and I feel like we’re in this golden age of creativity.”

“So what is my Lovewell story? Well it’s one about learning how to harness creativity and using it in any and every context,” gushes Jamie. Lovewell helped her learn to take creative risks and have confidence in her abilities. It grew her leadership skills and showed her how to make her ideas a reality.

“Yes, it’s also one about friendships and adventures that I cherish immensely. But mostly, it’s how I learned to wholly and truly to be my own autonomous individual and develop a sense of self, a sense of importance, and the power of knowing ‘All my needs will always be supplied by understanding of creativity.’”

Jamie Cohen
Currently lives in Hong Kong studying abroad through Vanderbilt University (Nashville, TN)
Lovewell student and supporter since 2004

Week #17

Snapshot of Samuel Janvier: Piecing the Puzzle Together

Sam became involved with Lovewell right before high school when his cousin, the late songwriter Jerry Taylor (who was dear friends with Founder, David Spangler), suggested the program to his mother. He made the suggestion “since I was the only person in my family who did arts-y kinds of things,” Sam remembered. That summer, a kind hearted board member, opened his home to Samuel since he was coming to Fort Lauderdale from Texas. Sam says thankfully, “I got to stay with Bill Shoemaker, who is one of the most incredible men I’ve ever met.”

“The connectivity I felt at Lovewell after my first week was something I had never been aware could exist,” says Sam about his beginning days at Lovewell. He confidently states that his favorite moments during the workshops are those when ideas are shared and brainstormed to combine and mix each person’s vision into one big picture.

Sam exclaims “I like figuring out how ideas can work and mesh together!” And we are so glad he does because he is a wonderful collaborator and has helped to solve many Lovewell puzzles.

Samuel Christopher Janvier
Currently Lives in North Richland Hills, Texas
Lovewell student for the past 4 years

Week #18

Snapshot of Lauri Oliver: From daughter to mother

Lauri’s Lovewell story began when her dear friend, Shelly Bernstein(Lovewell USA administrator), asked her two sons to play in the pit during Lovewell shows, two summers in a row. The second of these summers, “my daughter, Adele, came back and forth with me and became enthralled with what she was witnessing.” Lauri remembers how Adele “begged me to enroll her in the second session beginning the following Monday, which I did.” As Adele participated in the workshop, Lauri would stay and visit with Shelly, “helping her out with whatever she was working on.” As time continued she found herself more involved volunteering with whatever needed to be done. “I looked forward to spending time around Lovewell each day, and was happy to have a legitimate excuse to do so!” says Lauri.

“At the same time, I got to watch Adele as she was embarking on her own Lovewell journey. As a mother, it was an amazing thing to behold!” gushes Lauri. She watched the growth that Adele experienced that summer and the bonds that she shared with the other students and staff became undeniably strong. “By the end of the session, I had a die-hard Lovewell Light on my hands who announced to her father and I that she was going to be doing Lovewell both sessions in FLL, every summer! (Until she went off to college last summer, that’s exactly what she did!)” Lauri has valued seeing “my daughter grow into a kind, beautiful, capable, creative, motivated, self assured young lady who has gained so much from this remarkable program! Lovewell is so much a part of who she is today, and she is one pretty terrific kid!”

In addition to Adele’s participation, Lauri has also joined in the creative process. “In 2011, I participated alongside my daughter as an ensemble member in The Lovewell Theatre Project’s Let There Be Balloons. Don’t ask me what I was thinking! See, growing up I was a chorus girl, not a theater kid, and I’ve always had pretty terrible stage fright!” she laughs. Overall, Lauri remembers how undoubtedly scary and incredibly rewarding that experience was.

A few years ago, “I was offered a position as Assistant Administrator of the Fort Lauderdale program, which I happily accepted. This is way more up my alley! I love working with this amazing group of people and find myself arranging my life in a way that allows me to keep my summers free for Lovewell.” Not able to imagine her life without Lovewell, Lauri treasures “the love and spirit that surrounds this community” and calls it indescribable – “something I want to be a part of always! I have seen first hand and experienced for myself the “magic of Lovewell”. It is unique, beautiful and completely life altering!” “Thank you Lovewell, for all of the joy you bring to my life!”

Lauri Oliver
Currently lives in Coral Springs, Florida
Lovewell parent since 2007
Currently Co-Administrator in FL

Week #19

Snapshot of Matt Tribby: Growing Up

In the Lovewell process, Matt takes great pride in being a “flexible contributor to the group. By that I mean that I tried to help in whatever needed to get done at that moment and pay attention to the small details.” Matt remembers how he always loved collaborating with his friends in whatever the task at hand entailed. “I also never really had any large roles in any of my thirteen shows, but really just enjoyed playing a small character that was still essential for moving the story forward,” recalls Matt fondly.

“Lovewell is such a huge part of my life story because it has helped make me who I am.” He thinks of it as “a community that I grew up with and continue to grow with.” When he started Lovewell, at the age of eleven, Matt was quite shy. As he grew up, “Lovewell really helped to give me confidence and taught me how to be a leader when the situation demanded it.”

Participating in the International Cultural Exchange Lovewell workshop in Oskarshamn, Sweden for four years helped Matt mature. “I believe a large part of who I am is due to my experiences on those trips,” he states.

Matt also calls Lovewell “a wonderful, supportive community, one that is filled with some of my best friends.” He formed bonds that “I know can stand the test of time even if we are not directly involved with Lovewell in the future.”

Though Matt does not intend to pursue musical theater as a career, he values Lovewell and “the process and the connections I made with people in the process” incomparably.

“I do feel that the collaboration and creativity that Lovewell has helped me embrace will carry on to the rest of my life.”

Matthew Robert Tribby
Attends Duke in Durham, North Carolina
From Plantation, Florida
Lovewell student since 2007

Jesse Belt

Week #20

Snapshot of Jesse Belt: A Show Unfolds

Jamie Johnson, alumni and long time Lovewell staff member at workshops around the globe, runs the theatre department at Lawrence High School in Lawrence, Kansas. When she first took on this job for the 2014-2015 school year, it was a natural fit for her to incorporate a Lovewell workshop into her season. Enter Jesse Belt. When he was accepted into the workshop he says “I had only once been in one other show a couple months earlier.” As someone new to theater itself, the idea of writing an entire piece from the first word, with a bunch of other high schoolers was “just too crazy to miss.”

When asked about his experience throughout the process, Jesse recalls that “we focused our show, entitled I Am, on the subject of Identity. It was essentially a series of vignettes of the moments in life that are universal, from falling in and out of love to shedding your old perceptions. It had incredible heart.” Jesse was fond of the diverse cast and says that he “couldn’t have asked for a better group of friends to create something beautiful with. That being said, there were challenges along the way,” admits Jesse. He says that, “the process was at times frustrating, and other times downright scary, but our wise skipper, Jamie Johnson, held us to the tried and true process.”

The moment from I Am that sticks out in Jesse’s mind was “the offstage gathering immediately after we finished our first show. We had just had the unreal opportunity to share the things we thought needed to be told with an incredible audience, and man, were we floored. There was jumping, cursing, hugging, repetition of unnatural handshakes, all under a cloud of stunned disbelief. We had pulled it off.”

“I can, with all confidence, say that that moment will forever be a little headline of joy in my memory.”

This weekend, Jesse will hopefully feel all those feelings once again as he and his fellow creators open the brand new Lovewell show at Lawrence High School, Ready or Not. Break a leg to the whole company!

Jesse Belt
Currently lives in Lawrence, Kansas
Lovewell student since 2015

Week #22

Snapshot of Olle Nordström: Unexpected Change

The first time Olle experienced Lovewell “was during 2006 when I saw my sister, Cecilia Träff, perform in her second Lovewell show, “Livstecken”.” From that day forward, “my parents were just waiting for me to grow old enough so I could take part in this myself.” Olle began his own Lovewell journey in 2011.

When approaching the stage and his time at Lovewell, Olle does not think about which role he plays or which idea was chosen as the focus of the show. “In a typical Lovewell process I usually try to fit in wherever it’s needed. Off stage, I usually don’t try to push the idea to hard in any direction because the most important thing for me is that we all agree. Of course I sometimes like one idea more than another, but if the majority of the group is heading in another direction, you just have to go with the flow and think about whatever contributes most to the group in this very moment.” Spoken like a true Lovewell Light!

Did Lovewell change Olle’s life? Well, he wasn’t so sure until he had a conversation with his brother: “I was talking with my brother who is two years older than me and who also has Aspergers. I concluded that ‘sure, Lovewell was fun and all, but it didn’t change my life or anything.’ He answered ‘What? Are you serious?!? You were a totally different person the moment I met you after that show! So even if it didn’t change your life, it changed mine.’”

Last weekend, Olle appeared in the original Lovewell production, uConnect – a musical web (written in partnership with Eslövs folkhögskola in Eslöv, Sweden where the Lovewell Method has been integrated into their yearly syllabus). He would like to give this “Pro tip” to anyone who might be beginning their Lovewell journey in the summer of 2016: “If you’re that kind of person who still wants to have some personal attention on stage. Pick/create a part that stands out and is entertaining by itself.” That sure is what Olle has done throughout his time with Lovewell and we have the pictures from the shows he has helped to create to prove it!

Olle Nordström
Currently lives in Lund, Sweden.
Lovewell student since 2011

Week #23

Snapshot of Marcus Davis: A Beautiful Gift

Marcus admits, “My first year staffing for Lovewell, I had no idea what I was getting into. I thought ‘another generic theater camp to add to the resume’. Boy was I in for a surprise!” Marcus was about to learn that first of all, there is a reason why we do not refer to Lovewell as a ‘camp’ at all. This is because of the mutual respect and collaboration between the staff (professional artists) and students as well as the fact that everyone pours in so much time, energy, creativity and hard work- thus making the title of ‘workshop’ much more fitting.

At the time of his first Lovewell encounter, Marcus was finishing reading a book called “The Four Agreements” which, in his words, was beginning to transform his adult life. “I thought for sure I had found the answer to peace and love through this book,” he remembers.

Marcus recalls, “the first day arrives, and after a morning full of games (that I usually would have rather not participated in, but did) we were introduced to the Lovewell Affirmations. Woah…Wait.. What?!” “The Four Agreements,” the book that had just transformed Marcus, and the affirmations “nearly went hand in hand!”

He knew he had just received a “beautiful gift!” Marcus says “A seed was planted!! I knew then in that moment with my eyes full of joyful tears, I was here for a reason and without a doubt headed in the right direction. My life hasn’t been quite the same since.”

Prior to Lovewell, Marcus concluded that a career in the performing arts would automatically entail creativity and selfless love as a given. “However it is often overshadowed by ego driven actors, bitter “have been” directors and producers and an unawareness of human compassion. Everyone stepping on each other trying to get to the same place,” says Marcus. “Lovewell was just the tool I needed to continue forward cultivating my career as a performer and choreographer.”

Marcus expresses his eternal gratitude to the whole Lovewell Community for “allowing me, to trust the creativity within myself and others, to know that I am boundless in every way, and that ALL things are possible. And, most of all to take each step in life with love, seeing that my daily intention stems from love. With these ideas, that seed I was given as an adult (don’t forget that it did not come for me until adulthood) continues to sprout and grow to this very second. Blooming, as I learn more and more about myself as an artist, and as a human being.”

“Thank you for the lifelong gift. Remember to always listen well, create well, and LOVEwell!!”

Marcus Davis
Currently lives in Miami, FL
Choreographer for Lovewell for 9 years
(Fort Lauderdale; Oskarshamn, Sweden; Dayton, Ohio)