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Collier museums offer service learning for acting

Jared Zipper performs some of his skits at a Collier County museum. (EN Photo / Laura Tichey-Smith)

On Saturday night, Jared Zipper got a taste of his future in public speaking by taking a step back into the past when he portrayed famed Naples mechanic Ed “Bubba” Frank, inventor of the swamp buggy races, at the improvisation theater event “Night at the Depot.” Even better, he was awarded service-learning hours for his acting as a member of the Collier County Museums’ Historically Speaking Theater Company.
Zipper, a Florida Gulf Coast University senior majoring in political communications and a founding member of FGCU’s chapter of the Kappa Sigma fraternity, bantered for two hours with guests attending the performance at the Naples Depot Museum. Dressed in mechanic’s overalls and holding the hand-starter crank from the 1922 Ford he shared his display with, Zipper explained to a family with young children about how Henry Ford invented mass production as well as the Model T. To give them an idea of how automotive technology had changed, he told the youngsters, “Twenty miles per hour was pretty fast back then.”
Later, Zipper fielded a question about the broken arm stories associated with the crank starters; a man wondered if these stories were a myth or if they were true. Zipper handled the unexpected question by employing techniques he learned in his FGCU communications classes.
Zipper said that, although he performed in elementary school plays, he did not consider himself a thespian. However, he felt his training in debate and the public speaking concepts of ethos, logos and pathos from his major were excellent preparation for the intimate, interactive theater performance.
Mary Margaret Gruszka, volunteer coordinator for Collier County Museums, explained museum employee Naomi Goren suggested the event after seeing the movie “Night at the Museum” where the manikins came alive. Gruszka said, “I had the background in professional theater, had the connections with actors and could get them, so that’s why it got turned over to me.”
Gruszka’s credits include professional acting in Chicago and an eight-year stint on the board of directors of the Naples Players before becoming the director of Historically Speaking. Of her theatrical experience, she said, “I go through life casting people. I see someone and think, ‘Oh, if I were casting a play, I’d make them so and so in the play.’”
The company has put on five productions in the last two years, including a play titled “Killing Mr. Watson,” which they performed at the site where the infamous Everglades City resident Ed Watson died 100 years earlier. Historically Speaking presents FGCU service-learning students the opportunity to interact with and learn from theatrical professionals ranging from living history interpreters to costume makers to Shakespearean actors.
Zipper became involved with the improvisational theater company through his service-learning work as a volunteer receptionist at the Naples Depot Museum. He sought something fun and different for his community service requirement. As a communications major, talking with people in the museum at a personal level was the best service-learning opportunity for him. He said, “I loved museums growing up as a kid; my grandparents always took me.” He also said, “ If you’re going to be employed in this region, it’s good to know the history and be rooted living here. It gives you more credibility as a person [to employers] because you know and appreciate your region; it’s like loving your favorite sports team by learning about them.”
He said the most fun he had at the event was when people played along and asked his character questions. “They’d come up and ask me how things were going with the shop, and I could engage and pretend to be Bubba Frank.”
He also said older folks enjoyed reminiscing with him about the cars their parents had that were similar to the old Ford in the garage display. “One told me about how in Michigan the old car couldn’t go straight up a mountain, so they had to go around and build up speed before they could get it to go up.”
Zipper said the wildest question of the evening came from a child about 3 years old who was disappointed he could not come up and play in the Model T display. “The child asked me, ‘What if somebody grew from the floor [of the display]?’ I told him in that case I’d have to let him stay.”
Ron Jamro, director of the Collier County Museums, shared information for FGCU service-learning opportunities beyond Historically Speaking, reception and docent work. He said the museums have big plans for an internship program of interest to museum studies, history and archeology

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