Thursday, May 25, 2017

Loveland Players present "Las Vegas...Under the Neon Lights"

Time surely flies. Back in the summer of 2014, I took in all 15 shows presented at Venice Theatre at the American Association of Community Theatre's WorldFest. It was a blast to see shows created by theater groups from around the world. "Our Daily Bread" by Argentina's La Compasiva Teatro was a silent movie style show that had me in tears. Australia's Lieder Theater Company brought a hilarious production of "The Servant of Two Masters." And "Pop" by Denmark's Black Box Pangea left me gasping for breath.

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
As Dave Bise and I were thinking about people and programs to highlight in our Partnership for the Arts podcast, this collaboration was a natural inclusion. Not only is it a great program, but the Loveland Players' annual show is coming right up. We were fortunate to have the opportunity to sit in on a rehearsal of "Las Vegas...Under the Neon Lights" and talk with Julie Kostelec, activities coordinator at Loveland Center, and Becky Holahan, writer and director of the show.  It was an amazing morning.

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.

Controlled chaos?
This year's production offers all the glitz you would expect from a Las Vegas themed show. There will be slot machines and a magic act and a Cirque du Soleil-inspired number that Becky optimistically characterizes as controlled chaos. No Vegas show would be complete without Wayne Newton, and Donnie and Marie and the "Blue Dude Group" will also make appearances. Some of the "shadows" were on-hand as well. These volunteers will make sure the 50 actors hit their marks, remember their lines and get their costumes changed. While we didn't get a chance to see the costumes or set, the show will have similar production values to any other Venice Theatre performance.

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
It was also a treat to talk with Julie about Loveland Center more generally and Becky about her and Venice Theatre's commitment to this program. While Julie has been involved with the theater program for four years, this is the first year she has participated from start to finish. She admitted to a bit of apprehension about appearing as a "shadow" onstage. (Having watched her in rehearsal, I'm sure she'll do just fine.)

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

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