When Live Oak Theatre hosts “Adventures in Wonderland,” to be performed November 5 through 8 at the Carol and Frank Morsani Center for the Arts, 21030 Cortez Boulevard, Brooksville, they will do more than present an original interpretation of a classic story. They will raise the curtain on a whole new and very exciting chapter in Live Oak history; one powered and infused by the theatrical gifts and energy of youth.
“Adventures in Wonderland" is the debut production of the Acorn Theatre, Live Oak’s Youth Theatre program for students ages 8-18; one that renders every production a learning experience.
"Acorn Theatre's performance class meets to rehearse 4-6:30 p.m. Tuesdays and Thursdays, with classes running in 8 week periods with 6 performances at the end of each term," read a related news release. "The Acorn Theatre will work together to produce and perform 3 shows each year as well as participate in Brooksville’s annual Tree Lighting."
The Acorn Theatre production team consists of a rotating team of directors/instructors assisted by a team of apprentices in the areas of stage manager, assistant director, costumes, choreography, lighting, sound, music, and set design. Acorn Theatre apprentices are selected from frequent Live Oak performers who have “grown-up” on the theatre's stage, and who assume leadership roles in the production and mentor the students of the Youth Theatre. Parent volunteers are also welcomed.
"One of our main focuses at Live Oak is to create a positive environment that allows adults to mentor kids both on and off the stage," said Randi Olsen, show director and Live Oak president and artistic director. "This has been happening for about ten years now to the point where the first generation of Live Oak “kids” are becoming teenagers and young adults and have grown into the more mature roles they are now playing in productions like “Shakespeare on the Green” and “The Importance of Being Earnest“!"
Kids take center stage at the Acorn Theatre.
"We also have a new generation of Live Oak kids who are eager to develop their skills on our Live Oak Stage," said Olsen. "With that in mind, we created Live Oak’s Acorn Theatre, a youth theatre program that meets after school designed to give our younger generation a chance to shine alongside our first generation of Live Oak performers who have now taken on leadership and mentoring roles under the guidance of their mentors who make up our regular production teams."
The debut Acorn Theatre production, loosely inspired by Lewis Carrol’s Alice in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass, is “Adventures in Wonderland”; Live Oak Theatre’s original interpretation of Alice’s story.
"Keeping with the Live Oak Tradition of providing positive theatrical experiences for the whole family, “Adventures in Wonderland” concentrates on the wonder of it all," read a related news release. "This is Live Oak’s first musical theatre endeavor since the onset of the pandemic. Audiences will enjoy Acorn Theatre performers’ rendition of original songs such as “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Bat,” “Rabbit Hole,” and “Wonderland.”
And perhaps it's fitting that this debut production of Acorn Theatre was inspired by a Live Oak student.
"Adventures in Wonderland kind of took on a creative life of its own!" said Olsen. "I’ve had the concept for a musical adaptation with a steampunk, modern rock twist on the back burner of my brain for a few years now. I was actually inspired by a monologue that one of our students performed as part of her audition class at one of our Summer Camps a few years back."
The challenges involved in the production, furthermore, proved an education for all involved.
"When budget restrictions forced us to “think out of the box”, we realized that an obvious choice for an original musical for the Acorn Theatre was the story of Alice in Wonderland. It has multiple characters and lots of room for creativity to flow and furnish. Our Office Manager, Katie Moore, and I spent some time brainstorming storylines and concepts with Andi Garner, my co-Director and Choreographer, and then Katie and I put together the script," said Olsen. "The music pretty much wrote itself and I had a blast writing songs in different genres (modern rock, swing, and a calypso to name a few) that paint a picture of the characters. Andi's choreography really takes the music to a whole new level. It’s all very eclectic and original stuff and the kids are really doing an amazing job of bringing this original production to life."
Student performers in the Acorn Theatre cast of Adventures in Wonderland found both enjoyment and enrichment in the production.
"My favorite part of this was most likely the Jabberwocky scene. It was a lot of fun," said Cam Kennedy, who plays the White Rabbit, adding, "At some parts of the rehearsal I run too fast and my rabbit feet will slip right off--I just kick them to where I need to go and say my lines."
"My favorite part was doing the tea party scene, where I really get to be 'the Duchess'," said "Duchess" actress Molly Pianin, adding, "Through this class, I've learned mainly to project and stuff that I really needed to work on, but haven't been. Now I have the chance."
And in her portrayal of Tweedle Dum, Kealy Hunter made a startling discovery about musical theatre through her Wonderland performance.
"I learned EVERYONE has to sing in a musical!" the usual dance student exclaimed with a laugh.
And for the Acorn Theatre, this is just the first foray into an endless wonderland of magical possibility in the world of youth theatre.
"Acorn Theatre has two more productions on the calendar in the Spring of 2021," said Olsen. "We are currently looking for local businesses or donors to sponsor the production rights to some of the bigger named youth theatre productions designed for performers 8-18 like “Aladdin” or “The Lion King.” We also have “part 2” of Adventures in Wonderland in the works which will be based on “Through the Looking Glass”.
Seats for Adventures in Wonderland are $15 for adults and $8 for children ages 13 and under when accompanied by an adult. Thursday, Friday, and Saturday evening shows at 7:30 PM; Saturday and Sunday matinees at 2:30 PM. To purchase tickets, go to liveoaktheatre.square.site or email [email protected] or call 352-593-0027.
All Live Oak Theatre productions are staged with safety in mind, as administrators have been carefully monitoring CDC guidelines since opening for camp this summer. Temperatures are taken of anyone who enters the building. Hand sanitizer stations are set up throughout the building and theatre workers have been spraying down seats, ballet barres, bathrooms, doorknobs and just about everything else that can be sprayed on a regular basis.
For these performances, seating will be socially distanced according to each group’s reservation. Individual socially distanced seats are available, as well. Masks will be required at all times while indoors for the duration of the show and while in line for dessert/coffee.
Due to the nature of socially distanced seating, and the limited ticket availability for each performance, all ticket reservations must be made no later than 48 hours in advance of each performance. Payments must also be made in advance either online, by mail or by dropping off a check at the box office.
Randi Olsen looks forward to the future of Acorn Theatre--along with the young people who are claiming the spotlight.
"It’s a beautiful thing," she said. "And it’s been so exciting to watch our first-generation if Live Oak Kids grow and mature as they lead and train the next generation of Live Oak Performers!"