Member Spotlight - Winter Park Playhouse
Member Spotlight - Winter Park Playhouse
After a year of endless Netflix, the opportunity to see live theatrical performances feels like having a Thanksgiving dinner after months of leftovers. Live musical theater has returned at The Winter Park Playhouse, and they have a full lineup of events and performances for 2021.
“There have been some tears from our patrons – being able to experience live performances again has made people realize how important art is in their lives. It gives a sense of connection and community and joy,” says Executive Director Heather Alexander.
The theater has taken extraordinary measures to create a safe venue. Raising the stage an extra foot to provide more distance between the audience and performers, UV light sanitation in all seven of the A/C handlers, the application of Permasafe throughout the building to all surfaces to kill germs and viruses on contact for up to a year, touchless faucets and fixtures in bathrooms, social distancing signs throughout, and requiring masks for all staff, patrons, performers and technicians are some of the measures implemented to allow fans to enjoy live theater again.
“Our artists are wearing clear masks. They are fantastic, and it really helps the audience hear them better and connect with the performance better. Everyone loves them, and I get a lot of emails asking where to get them,” says Alexander. She notes that not all patrons are ready to come back to in-person events, but they have been keeping connected to everyone virtually for the past year.
Founded in 2002, the Playhouse is celebrating its 19th year and is dedicated to bringing live musical theater to stage, giving artists a place to share their talent and craft with the community. The Playhouse started in the back of a performing arts school with a tiny stage and metal folding chairs. It has been at its current location on Orange Avenue since 2009 and seats 123. The 2021 mainstage shows include: Rodger’s & Hammerstein’s “A Grand Night for Singing,” “Respect: A Musical Journey of Women,” “Five Course Love,” “Crazy for Gershwin,” “The Book of Mermen” and “Christmas My Way: A Sinatra Holiday Bash.” In addition to their six annual mainstage productions, they also host a monthly cabaret, plus other special events.
A relatively new signature event is the Florida Festival of New Musicals – a multi-day event that helps advance the art form of musical theater by fostering its development. The festival is essentially an open competition. Of the submissions, six finalists are selected, and they are showcased at the event, unveiling a condensed version of these completely new never-before produced musical works. In just four short years, the festival has gained international attention.
“It is getting fabulous support and recognition around the world. The six finalists each year have professional non-staged readings, and there are usually over 50 professional artists who are performing. There’s a total of 18 readings with a talk back, and the audience is critical because the writers will ask pointed questions of them to get feedback and make their projects better,” says Alexander. “They will then go on and continue to develop their works. We’ve produced two of them here, and some have gone on to readings in New York to try to develop them into Broadway musicals,” she says. The next festival is taking place June 24-27.
Sharing that passion for the art of musical theater is what drives the Playhouse. As a 501(3)c nonprofit organization, they are dedicated to serving the community. “We are all about bringing joy to the word. We offer a lot of different programming in house and out in the community. We bring performances to children at elementary schools and to the Welbourne Nursery and Preschool and Winter Park Day Nursery. We have a senior adult outreach program for those who cannot get out and those who reside in low-income senior housing. We also provide free tickets to adults who are unable to afford to go to the theater through the Winter Park Community Center,” says Alexander. She says their regulars and dedicated patrons helped sustain their organization through the pandemic. Financial support from the PPP loan was also a critical lifeline.
Alexander shares that the arts are an important component of the local economy. In 2019, the Winter Park Playhouse’s annual economic impact to the area was $1.6 million. The Playhouse of course provides jobs as well as direct support to small businesses such as printers, but in addition, their patrons support local restaurants, gas stations and hotels for example when they go out for an event.
“We all came through such a difficult year, and we are ready to move on together and be better than ever,” she says.