In the midst of this international creativity came a moving production by Venice Theatre's own Loveland Players. The show, entitled "The Century of Music," told the story of four generations of music in an American family. While the story was fun to follow, it was the actors who held my attention. The Loveland Players, you see, are a group comprised of developmentally disabled adults. Most actors come from Loveland Center, a nonprofit whose mission is to help these adults live their lives to the fullest. The Center's programs include a collaboration with Venice Theatre in which the students meet weekly to develop their stage skills. For the past 22 years, the annual program has included a full-length production with a short run at Venice Theatre.
|Loveland Center student rehearsing|
We arrived at the same time as the students, many of whom were curious to see new faces in the rehearsal studio. Debbie, a woman with a streak of purple in her hair, introduced herself and proudly told me she would be a showgirl in the production. Mark told me he had a solo -- "Razzle Dazzle" from the show "Chicago." The accompanist worked with a performer on his song. The students hugged Becky and the volunteers working on the show and took their seats. This would be the first complete run-through, with the next rehearsal taking place on the stage.
Just to back up a bit, this particular production has been in the works since last fall. The program begins with a tour of the theater, a meet-and-greet with the volunteers, and screenings of past performances. Students interested in participating prepare an audition piece, which might be a poem, a song or a short narrative piece. Becky, who's directed the show for the last 19 years, slots the students based on these auditions with input from others involved with the program. Then the show really begins to take shape.
Dave and I grinned from ear to ear throughout the rehearsal. How could we not? The joy and enthusiasm in the room was contagious. We particularly got a kick out of Mark's "Razzle Dazzle." Throughout the rehearsal, the performers had faced the blank wall behind the accompanist while running through their paces. Mark angled himself towards the corner where Dave and I were sitting. When Becky asked him why he was facing that way, he said, "They're my audience." The room erupted with laughter. (You might not be surprised to hear that Mark is a bit of a showman who has performed in most--if not all--of the Loveland Players productions.)
|Loveland Center's Julie Kostelec|
|Director Becky Holahan|
Becky shared that her first involvement with the show was as an audience member nearly 20 years ago. The show was much simpler then, with students sitting on chairs onstage and singing or doing a scene. She immediately wanted to get involved and has grown the production to the musical extravaganza it is today. She analogized the program to a seed that was planted 20+ years ago and has now grown into a flowering tree.
The Loveland Players' production of "Las Vegas...Under the Neon Lights" runs from June 1-4. It's a theater experience you will remember for the rest of your life.
To hear Partnership for the Arts' podcast with Julie and Becky, click here. For more about Loveland Center, click here. And for info about Venice Theatre (or to purchase tickets), click here.