In past years, I have written about each of the shows in the upcoming season. That has been fine, but I think by now you know that we do shows. We do classes. We do community engagement projects.
Why do we do this work? What makes a viable theatre company? Yes, the product we present should be of the highest quality. Yes, we attempt to program activities and events relevant to our community. But, the answer is deeper. In what ways should a theatre for family and young audiences exist in 2017 and exactly how should we respond to the unsettled and divisive world around us? Do we have a responsibility to address domestic and global issues on the stage and in our classrooms as seen through the lens of a young person? These are not questions that beget simple answers, but we know that our young people today are not immune to the world at large around them, so we bear some responsibility in addressing that world.
Our platform is theatre. We believe that theatre is magical. Truly. There is a magical quality to this art form that draws those of us who practice it like ships to the Sirens. It draws those of us who need it in our lives to the seats. We are not naïve enough to think that theatre alone solves all our ills, but we do know that theatre is an extremely powerful tool for sharing perspectives and cultivating empathy. And, we know that empathy and understanding can indeed save the world; so therefore, we believe theatre is vitally important work. Theatre can bridge gaps, theatre can change hearts, theatre can change minds, theatre can inspire compassion, theatre can provoke conversation, and theatre can transform.
This is the why! So, at Orlando Repertory Theatre, what is the what? The shows and projects may appear disparate at first glance, but upon closer study, certain themes emerge. Certain leitmotifs present themselves: that of finding your voice and that of seeing things from another’s perspective and finding commonalities. Both themes are cornerstones of building empathy.
Theatre can bridge gaps, theatre can change hearts, theatre can change minds, theatre can inspire compassion, theatre can provoke conversation, and theatre can transform.
Consider Disney’s Newsies. These young, seemingly powerless, boys found their voice together and used it to confront the powerful over unfair practices. By remaining resolute together, young people became agents of change. Polkadots: The Cool Kids Musical sits us right down in the middle of the fight for civil rights. What is frightening about a girl with pink skin covered in dots moving to a town where everyone has blue skin covered in squares? We examine and address that fear. In The Best Christmas Pageant Ever: The Musical, our comfortable world is invaded by those who do not belong. We must seek common ground in time for the annual pageant to be performed. Flora & Ulysses illuminates the struggles of a young girl whose parents are divorcing and whose world is shifting radically. How does she cope, readjust, and move forward? A superhero squirrel just might be able to help. The animals of Madagascar – A Musical Adventure, comfortable in their posh zoo environment, find themselves in the middle of the jungle and must learn to adapt to the culture. The title sibling characters of Judy Moody & Stink: The Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad Treasure Hunt must learn to put aside their annoyance of each other in order to work as a team to accomplish a goal. So, there are larger themes at play than first appear and on top of all that, the shows must be entertaining as well, or nothing works!
We have lots of exciting limited engagements including a partnership with Orlando Philharmonic Orchestra, the returns of our friends Tony Brent and Mr. Richard & The Pound Hounds, and much more. Our Youth Academy presents exciting shows like Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, Getting to Know…Once Upon A Mattress, and Disney’s My Son Pinocchio Jr. We are partnering with The Holocaust Memorial and Resource Center of Florida and Florida Theatrical Association on a series of staged readings illuminating the topics of child refugees, young undocumented immigrants, and American Muslim teens.
We continue our community engagement initiatives like working with young people to find their voice at organizations like Edgewood Children’s Ranch and Orlando Union Rescue Mission. We continue programs like The Justice Project, where we use theatre to create a safe space for dialogue between young men of color and police academy students. We continue to train and work alongside UCF graduate students to develop the next generation of leaders in theatre for young audiences. Theatre is a refuge. We strive to give voice and platform for those marginalized in our community. We create space where people can be themselves and learn about others and build from there.
We. The key word is we. We the audience, the staff, the board, the actors, the volunteers, the participants, the students, the donors, the designers and production teams, the teaching artists, the community partners, the sponsors, the schools and educators, other arts groups, the ones seeking a better world. We are theatre. We are here. We are important. We matter. Quoting Arthur Miller, “Attention must be paid.”
Jeffrey M. Revels, Artistic Director