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Big Plans for Live Oak: The Little Theatre that Could

By Deanna Dammer Kimbrough Posted on September 2, 2020

In 2009, the Live Oak Theatre (LOT) was founded by Randi and Keith Olsen, Vince Vanni, Barbara Manuel, Art and Ellen Sanborn (who head up YWAM Tampa), and a team of mission-minded Christians, to create and produce top-notch family-friendly shows.

The founders wanted to provide ‘positive artistic experiences in the performing arts’ while highlighting family-friendly entertainment and education for all ages through this not-for-profit (501c3) organization.

“The ultimate goal is to be known as a regional theatre company that provides entertainment and education in Hernando County and surrounding communities,” says Vince Vanni.

Originally, performances were held in a variety of venues, including Faith Evangelical Presbyterian Church in Brooksville until May 2018.

Live Oak Theatre moved to it’s current, amazing facility at 21030 Cortez Boulevard, just south of downtown in Brooksville that summer. 

In 2018, fundraising and a major financial gift made the Carol & Frank Morsani Center for the Arts the theatre company’s permanent home, named in honor of the generous donors who helped make it possible.

Randi Olsen, President and Artistic Director of the Live Oak Theatre, often participates in the productions. She can be seen here on the left in their Wizard of Oz production. Image by Diane Bedard

The Show Must Go On

Stage productions have decreased due to COVID-19 concerns, but great plans are waiting in the wings.

“The show must go on” is an old show business expression that has been uttered over many years and under many circumstances. 

Live Oak Theatre President and Artistic Director, Randi Olsen, updated that to “we are pressing on in our mission to bring family-friendly theatre to our community.” 

Olsen recently sent an email to the 250 ‘Live Oak Family’ members, updating them on the current situation and future plans for 2020-2021 theatre productions and programs.  It is full of thankfulness for the past, gratitude for the present, and hope for the future.

The master calendar for the coming Fall Season is planned is to move forward beginning the week of September 6 but may have adjustments as needed. 

In the Good Old Summer Time

The Theatre staff has taken great advantage of this summer’s downtime.  As spokesman, Vince Vanni said, “we have had to do a lot of adapting, and we did it.”  A good deal of re-organizing, re-purposing, and rethinking the use of space, material, and equipment has been accomplished.

Some of these achievements include:

  • backstage area and costume shop are more orderly
  • ballroom floor was repaired
  • an additional set of barres has been installed to allow for more students in Live Oak Conservatory’s dance classes
  • some “flip-flopping” has been done with a couple of rooms, creating a larger playroom as well as a future gift shop.
  • a 53’ trailer, donated by Walmart, provides additional storage.
Live Oak Conservancy offers classes in theatre arts. Image courtesy of Live Oak Theatre Facebook page.

Summer Camp was a Blast!

Because of the Live Oak Theatre Conservatory scholarships, made possible by faithful financial supporters, the ‘little theatre that could’ was able to hold six performing arts camps over the summer. 

For Randi Olsen, this was “a serious answer to prayer,” and she expressed her deep appreciation for the Theatre’s entire staff, teachers, and volunteers who together made it happen.

Peter Pan in One Act was part of this summer’s new normal at Live Oak Theatre. Image courtesy of Vince Vanni.

Peter Pan – in One Act!

Another creative accomplishment was Live Oak’s own one-act version of “Peter Pan”.  It was written, produced, rehearsed, and performed twice in July. 

All safety measures, including limited seating, social distancing, masks and temperature testing, were taken for approximately 100 attendees. 

Olsen was so encouraged to be able to put on the productions after “being dark for so many months.”  About 25 teen-aged students of Live Oak’s Youth Theatre program performed, directed by Ben Staley and Lenia Richards. 

Youth Theatre gives students ages 8-18 the opportunity to explore their theatrical side, and Live Oak Conservancy offers classes to hone their skills to the top levels. Image courtesy of Live Oak Theatre.

Speaking of Youth Theatre

The Youth Theatre program started in 2020 for students 8-18 years of age.  Performance classes rehearse on Tuesdays and Thursdays, with six performances each term. This leads up to the entire Youth Theatre troupe producing and performing three shows annually. 

Also included is a Production Team element, using students and apprentices for stage managers, assistant directors, costuming, choreography, lighting, sound, music and set design. These apprentices will be “chosen from regular performers of Live Oak who have grown up on our stage. They will have leadership roles and serve as mentors,” explained Randi Olsen.

Parents are encouraged to volunteer for these opportunities.  If you who have children interested in joining the Youth Theatre, contact Katie Moore at [email protected]

Rehearsal for Joseph and the Technicolor Dream Coat production from 2019. Image courtesy of Live Oak Theatre.

Live Oak’s Youth Theatre to perform Adventures in Wonderland November 5-8

“Adventures in Wonderland” will be co-directed by Andi Garner and Randi Olsen.  It’s an original musical adaptation of Lewis Carrol’s “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland.” The performance is planned for November 5-8.

Taking Theatre Outside

The Theatre has a beautiful 3-acre property, with a covered veranda. Theatre-goers can now attend performances outdoors, with up to 100 guests able to enjoy the shows! Image courtesy of Live Oak Theatre.

Another exciting project for Live Oak will be an outdoor performance stage for this Fall Season’s productions.  It will be built with the same specs as the indoor stage, which is roughly 16 x 24 feet, according to Vince Vanni, and theatre-goers will be able to sit on the covered Veranda and lawn. 

With the weather’s cooperation, 100 people can be seated in a “safe, socially distanced” area, while enjoying the fun, interactive theatre that Live Oak is known for.

Live Oak Theatre’s 2020/2021 Season

Randi Olsen understands this season will be a little different than usual, saying, “we’re not even advertising it as a season.”  With the challenges Live Oak Theatre has faced so far, it has become clear that smaller shows and casts should be the norm, at least through the fall. 

Until further notice, auditions will be by invitation for some productions, along with recruitment of “recurring characters from past Madrigal performances.” 

October will feature Shakespeare performed outdoors at the Live Oak Theatre.
Image by Sunpreet Kaur from Pixabay

The 2020/2021 Live Oak Theatre Season includes Shakespeare Outdoors in October, Wonderland November 5-8, Earnest November 13-15 and 20-22, and the traditional Madrigal Dinner December 10-13.

If things return to any kind of normalcy, open auditions are planned for the 2021 play, “The Little Earl”. The Little Earl is an original musical adaptation by Ellen and David Sanborn of “Little Lord Fauntleroy” by Frances Hodgson Burnett. Burnett also authored “The Secret Garden”.  

Hopefully, even more productions and events will be added.

Hold the Curtain!

Actually, there are no stage curtains at The Live Oak Theatre.

New procedures have been implemented for audience, actor, and volunteer safety at The Live Oak Theatre, including reserved seating in groups with social distancing between each group. Image courtesy of Vince Vanni.

Personally, I love thrust stage performances (right up there with theatre in the round).  It allows the audience to feel the vibes and see all the movement on the stage—even at a safe distance.

In this case, hold the curtain means the Theatre’s production of “80 Days” has been postponed.  Since it is a big show with a big cast, it wouldn’t be good for an outdoor stage, so it is on hold until the time is right.

New: Flex Passes and Reserved Seating

Image by Valentin Baciu from Pixabay

Season Ticket holders will now be offered Flex Passes, which means they can buy “multiple tickets at a discount that can be used for all Live Oak productions” (Main Stage, Youth Theatre, concerts, and events). 

Season Ticket holders from last season will automatically be rolled over to Flex Passes.

There will be no on-site ticketing and each person will have to reserve their seat before coming to the theatre. Seats will be set up in by the size of each group of patrons who are attending the performance together, with social distancing between each group. It is both ingenious and shows common sense.

The Live Oak Theatre is an all-volunteer group of theatre enthusiasts, working together to teach and mentor a family-friendly environment where talent can shine. Contact them today for more information on how you can get involved. Image by Diane Bedard.

Three Cheers for Volunteers!

If you are a volunteer looking for something useful to do, or even if you have never been a volunteer, here’s your chance. 

The Live Oak Theatre is housed in a 14,000 square foot building on a 3-acre corner lot.  Donations of money definitely help with paying bills, but there are, as Randi Olsen notes, “always surprise expenses.” 

Infra-structure issues like plumbing, air conditioning, and general maintenance and repairs are often surprises. 

Skilled labor volunteers from local businesses would be amazingly helpful for Live Oak Theatre, as well as landscaping help. Image by Tuna Ölger from Pixabay

Skilled labor volunteers from local businesses would be amazingly helpful, and other opportunities include landscaping tasks, like mowing, trimming, weeding and grounds clean-up. 

The opportunities are endless!

Implementing COVID Safety Measures

“The Live Oak Theatre building has never been cleaner or more sanitized,” said Randi Olsen.  Centers for Disease Control guidelines have been monitored and followed, beginning with the 2020 Summer Youth Camps. 

Safety measures include:

  • ticket sales online only
  • temperatures taken of anyone entering building
  • hand sanitizer stations throughout the building
  • regular sanitary spraying of seats, ballet barres, bathrooms, doorknobs and anything else that can be sprayed
  • toys and costumes in the playroom have been put away
  • symptomatic people are asked to stay home
  • parents are asked to drop off and pick up students
  • eat snacks or meals on the Veranda or outside
  • masks and social distancing strongly encouraged
  • no hugs!
Live Oak Theatre performer Emily Mosher stands in front of the Carol and Frank Morisani Center for the Performing Arts, holding a filled change jar from her personal campaign. Image courtesy of Vince Vanni.

Standing Ovation

I will close with a quote from Randi Olsen’s email to The Live Oak Theatre family, where she admits money is tight, and asks for financial help.

“…while I think it’s important that Live Oak Theatre’s goal (is) becoming a self-sustaining, not-for-profit business, I think it’s important that we also admit when we need help and to ask for it when we need it.” 

Additional monthly donations help bolster the Theatre’s “financial cushion,” build the outdoor stage, remodel the 1,500 sq. ft. Veranda, and purchase seating for that venue are greatly appreciated.

Vince Vanni, one of the Live Oak Theatre’s founders compliments his young charges on their acting of Shakespeare instead of reading lines from a page during Summer Camp. Image by Diane Bedard

How to Reach the Live Oak Theatre

Location: 21030 Cortez Boulevard, Brooksville,  FL 34601. Phone: 352-593-0027 Email: [email protected] Online/Buy/Reserve Seats: https://www.liveoaktheatre.org

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