When Nick Bazo was studying for his master’s degree in theater at the University of Central Florida in 2008, he took a hard-hat tour of the space that eventually would become the Garden Theatre.
More than a decade later, that space has blossomed into the heart of creativity in Winter Garden, and Bazo is returning to it not as a student but as an educator. In fact, Bazo will be joining the Garden Theatre as its first full-time education director. He will be in charge of programming and implementing camps, classes and community partnerships throughout the year.
“I knew back in 2008 what was starting at the Garden (Theatre),” Bazo said. “On the periphery, I knew what was going on at the Garden (over the years), as well as I have several close friends who are performers there. So, I’ve been able to see what’s been going on at the Garden — not firsthand, but at least from a distance. When I saw the position (for the education director) open, I already knew what was kind of already happening at the Garden and was really interested in getting involved.”
Originally from Key West, Bazo, 39, is a Cuban-American director, teaching artist and arts administrator with a lifelong passion for theater. Prior to coming to the Garden Theatre, Bazo spent the last 11 years in Boston serving as the director of programs for The Theater Offensive, and he also ran the True Colors: OUT Youth Theater Program. He worked as the manager of school programs at the Citi Performing Arts Center in Boston, where he managed all in-school programming and served as the lead teaching artist with the City Spotlights Program.
“I moved to Boston specifically to work with The Theater Offensive, which is an LGBTQ-focused theater company, to work with their youth program called True Colors,” Bazo said. “It’s a program geared for LGBTQ youth, specifically, and I wanted to write my graduate thesis on working with them. I started as a graduate intern with (The Theater Offensive), and then I became a teaching artist (and) director with them. And then about a year or two into that, I became the director of programs in charge of all the youth programming, as well as the adult programming.”
Locally, Bazo has worked as a teaching artist and actor at the Orlando Repertory Theatre. He earned his master’s degree of fine arts in theater, with an emphasis in theater for young audiences, from UCF. He also earned a bachelor’s degree in theater from Rollins College and holds a Youth Development Training Certificate from The BEST Initiative.
“I have such a personal connection to being a young person in theater myself that I thought it was important that I would want to create experiences for other young people,” Bazo said. “In that time period of me discovering where I wanted to go career-wise, UCF had just started a theater for young audiences MFA program, and it was literally the only grad school program I applied to. I knew that was the kind of work I wanted to do.”
The education program at the Garden Theatre has seen a tremendous amount of growth in the last three years. The Garden has gone from offering just a handful of summer camps in 2017 to offering 25 different weekly summer camps this year. The education program has expanded to include classes and workshops for individuals of all ages throughout the year. During this period of growth, student attendance has tripled, and the Garden now welcomes more than 750 students each season. Bazo’s role as the new education director is to continue this growth and introduce new programs to impact more lives through educational experiences.
“With carefully planned offerings and a passionate teaching staff, our education program has gone through a remarkable transition in the last few years,” Garden Theatre Executive Director Nao Tsurumaki said. “We can’t wait to welcome Nick to the Garden family and work together to advance this important part of our mission further than ever.”
“What excites me about this is the opportunity to grow a program and to make … it flourish,” Bazo said. “The Garden reminds me a lot of the theater I kind of grew up in. And again, creating those experiences for young people is the reason why I do this work, and that really attracted me to the Garden.”
As Bazo begins this new chapter in his career, he’s excited to get to know the community and to return home to the Sunshine State.
“On a personal note, my husband and I have been looking for a reason to start coming back to Orlando,” Bazo said. “We have very young nieces and nephews, and our parents are getting older. On the front of really being interested in being at the Garden (Theatre) and following along with that, and also wanting to leave the cold of Boston, I think those two things came together. … I’m coming back home.”