After Orlando Project is local artists uniting for healing

By : Anna M. Johnson
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The Orlando theater community is about to gain visibility in an international way. Hometown playwrights’ pieces are going to be performed as part of an anthology series all over the United States and the world, with venues from New York City to London. On Oct. 17 though, the playwrights’ work will be showcased in a very local way at the Orlando Shakesspeare Theater.

The After Orlando Project is an “International Theatre Action” put on by Missing Bolts Productions and NoPassport Theatre Alliance and Press; both groups are based out of New York.

After the Pulse massacre happened, Caridad Svich, OBIE-award winning playwright, partnered with Zac Kline and Blair Baker of Missing Bolts to collect works from both professional and amateur playwrights. The three-minute pieces were to be written as reflections on Pulse and on life after Pulse. The three producers had no idea when they started that they would end up with over 70 submissions.

“[Baker, Kline] and I just started approaching people, and people started saying yes,” Svitch says. “We started saying ‘I think this is really happening’ to each other.”

The group put on a similar theater action in 2013 about gun control in response to the Sandy Hook shooting. The After Orlando Project is currently listed on Missing Bolts’ website as being shown in 21 theater spaces all over the world, with more potentially coming. All 70-plus plays are available to any director that is chosen by the production team.

Margaret Nolan just happened to see the call for playwrights online. She contacted them immediately and asked permission to present some of the plays through her production company Kangagirl Productions.

“I wanted to present some of the plays here since, you know…duh,” Nolan says.

Nolan wanted Orlando’s theater community represented in her showing as well, however. She worked out with Kline, Baker and Svich that she was allowed to feature the work of up to five local playwrights as long as she used at least three of the “official” pieces. She was so thrilled that she went over the set limit.

“I ended up sending them eight plays and a song,” Nolan says. “They accepted all of them. That ended up exciting me almost as much as the project itself – that our writers would be represented.”

The plays that Nolan submitted were selected as part of the project, and are available to perform royalty-free until the end of the year. After December 31, all of the plays will be published in an anthology released by NoPassport Press and will be subject to standard licensing fees.

The project started to come together at the end of June, and the first formal performance of the shows was on Sept. 12.

Every play selected as part of the After Orlando Project is only three minutes long. They were all written as reflections on the Pulse tragedy, but not all of them directly mention Pulse.

“There are pieces about gun control and about grief. There are pieces about love, being gay, being Latin,” Nolan says. “There are multiple subjects that these plays cover. They’re all contextualized within the Pulse event, but they radiate to other subjects.”

Svich stresses the necessity of presenting transformative works like this through theater.

“There’s something about that space of [theater] being intimate,” she says. “It’s a civic dialogue from the get-go.”

Nolan’s long-time collaborator David Lee is directing the flow of the show as well as some of the plays themselves. Other local directors have also been brought in to help. Though the official cast list has yet to be posted, Nolan shares that the range of actors that are participating is diverse, from high school students to veteran performers.

Beth Marshall, producing artistic director of the local production company Beth Marshall Presents held her annual Play-In-A-Day event at Lake Howell High School on Sept. 24. The event challenges groups of local theater artists to write, direct and act in short play based on a universal theme in a 24-hour period. This year’s theme was Pulse.

Marshall brought Nolan in to judge the presented works, with the intention of choosing the piece that best fit in with the lineup to be included in the After Orlando event. Billy Manes, the editor-in-chief of Watermark wrote a personal piece about his experience as a member of the LGBT community following the shooting.

It was Manes’ first time ever writing a monologue. He won, and his piece will be performed by local actor Michael Osowski on Oct. 17.

Nolan is also incorporating other art forms into the evening.

Local artist Thomas Thorspecken’s short film Finger on the Pulse premiered as an online piece for the 2016 Global peace Film Festival, held in Orlando. The film is a collaboration between 16 local artists that came together to draw 49 portraits of all those killed in the Pulse shooting in one night.

Dennis Giacino, the composer and lyricist for the Off-Broadway musical Disenchanted wrote a song specifically for the performance. Orlando actor Jose Navarro will be scoring the show by playing live cello pre-show and in between some acts.

Jim Helsinger, artistic director of the Orlando Shakespeare Theater, also supports the After Orlando Project. Theater staff will be managing the facilities for the show, from the box office to the bar.

He commissioned 49 sets of “angel wings” to be made in June to be worn to protect victims’ funerals from hateful outside spectators. The wings will be on display in the Shakespeare Theater lobby during the performance.

All proceeds of the Oct. 17 performance through Kangagirl Productions will be donated to the Pulse of Orlando fund. Nolan wanted the performance to be a “grass roots” movement, and took it into account when selecting her venue.

The Mandell Theater at the Orlando Shakespeare Theater has been rented out for the entire month of October by John DiDonna, the artistic director of the theater department at Valencia College for his production of Phantasmagoria. DiDonna offered up the space to Nolan for her production for free.

DiDonna says that he has no problem giving up the space to Nolan for these shows.

“No matter what show we are doing, no matter what projects we are immersed in, we are one community,” DiDonna says in an email. “We help each other, we support each other and we work together.”

This year, the Shakespeare Theater’s annual PlayFest event on Nov. 5 will also be featuring some of the works from the After Orlando Project.

Kline, the co-artistic director of Missing Bolts Productions will be in attendance at the Oct. 17 benefit. He’s slated to speak about the theater action projects that Missing Bolts and NoPassport have been putting on for years. Svich is being brought in to speak at the Nov. 5 PlayFest event.

Svich says that she intends to continue putting together “Theatre Actions” as long as the world continues to need them.

“As the base of all of this is creating the space through theater for transformative ways of healing to occur,” Svich says.

Nolan echoes the sentiment by choosing to present the plays for her event in their rawest forms. The actors will hold their scripts while they are onstage. Nolan chose to do this to bring the works to life solely through what is written.

“These shows aren’t meant to be about spectacle,” Nolan says. “The night is just going to be about the words and feelings. It’s about how art can heal and bring us together.”

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