Tuesday, June 30, 2015

A panel discussion helped students learn about Theater.


John DiDonna, who is the Program Chair/Artistic Director of the Theater Department at Valencia College's East Campus, organized a panel discussion with some of Orlando's biggest talents. The event was held in the community area right next to the campus Black Box Theater in front of the gallery which had a show of black and white photos documenting racism in Central Florida.

Beth Marshal started off the discussion, Mike Deaven and Anastasia Stacy are integral to her production company, Beth Marshall Presents. Beth basically stressed that students should have realistic expectations if they want to get into the theater business. When I sketch at Beth's auditions, Mike is always there to play opposite someone in scenes. He is Beth's assistant. Anastasia is Beth's son's girlfriend and she has become indispensable as Beth's Stage manager. Students who go into theater tend to think they will start making over $30,000 a year, but realistically most actors, directors and stage hands all need to have a day job to pay the bills. The only way to work your way into theater is through patience, perseverance and endless determination.

Alana McMillan Friskes is the Executive Director of the Garden Theatre. I love that historic Theater with its star studded indoor ceiling. Built in 1935, it was the first movie theater built for "talkies." The theater underwent several renovations before closing in 1963. It was then converted into a farm supply store. The Winter Garden Heritage Foundation, restored the Garden Theatre which  reopened in February of 2008. With over 200 events per season, has quickly become a shining star on Plant Street. Alana has been integral in bringing live theater to the stage in Winter Garden.

James Brendlinger, who is the Chairman of the Department of Arts & Communications at Lake Howell High, School, is also the founder of Penguin Point Productions. James helped build and organize a huge expanded Costume Room which is an incredible resource for the theater community. I know that he collaborated with Beth Marshall Productions on Hoodies which was a powerful production at this year's Orlando International Fringe Festival. The Central Florida Theater community is small and very interconnected. A strong reputation takes time to build, but a bad reputation is quickly discovered by everyone in this tight knit community.

Aradhana Tiwari spoke about how she admired the work of a director at Mad Cow Theatre. She had never done this before, but she asked to shadow the director to find out how he worked. He then left the theatre and Aradhana was promoted to the position of being Mad Cow's resident director. John DiDonna shouted out "She is essentially the Artistic Director." This is a fine parable about how curiosity and drive can lead to unexpected breaks in this business. I learned things about the Central Florida Theater Community, and I've been sketching from the sidelines for years. This must have been an eye opening experience for students just starting out in theater.

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