Behind the scenes at Orlando Shakespeare Theater

Playwright’s Corner: Brandon Roberts

You probably recognize Orlando Shakes actor Brandon Roberts from his memorable roles on stage, but what you may not know is that the actor is also an accomplished director and playwright. Besides directing The Velveteen Rabbit for the Theater back in 2008, he is the co-founder and Artistic Director for PB&J Theatre Factory, a team of artists who write and produce silent physical comedy. In addition to writing for PB&J, Brandon has received praise for his Theater for Young Audiences (TYA) adaptations including Little Red Riding Hood, which premiered at the Barter Theatre in 2002, and Orlando Shakes’ Cinderella (2012). Brandon’s most recent project was updating the classic fairy tale Sleeping Beauty for Orlando Shakes’ 25th season.

OS: How did you begin writing TYA scripts for Orlando Shakes?
BR: In the summer of 2011, I appeared in Snow White.  Over the course of those rehearsals, I offered some new ideas and  improvements to the script, and the production was very successful. Following that run, Jim [Helsinger] asked me to write Cinderella, which ended up being the top selling show in the Goldman Theater.  Sleeping Beauty is my second adaptation for Orlando Shakes and hopefully there will be a third next year!

OS: What draws you to performing and writing for young audiences?
BR: In both cases, I just want to tell a good story.  I don’t write “for kids”, per se.  I try to tell a story that is accessible to everyone. I admire the way Pixar tells stories these days, and I don’t see their films as “kids” movies. I believe that young audiences just want to be talked to and respected.  Trust them with the information in your story, and they will have a good time.  Young audiences are smarter than a lot of TYA scripts give them credit for.

OS: How did you come up with this new spin on Sleeping Beauty?
BR: Here in Orlando, we are surrounded by Princesses all the time.  With both Cinderella and Sleeping Beauty, I didn’t even watch the Disney films. I went to the Brothers Grimm first, and layered in my sense of humor and knowledge that I could break the mold. I think that most locals appreciate not getting another regurgitation of the same story.  I grew up on Looney Tunes and The Muppets, so I think that I naturally default to the quirkier choices when storytelling.  For Sleeping Beauty specifically, I just did the math. If she was asleep for 100 years, what would it be like to wake up in present day?

OS: What do you hope audiences take away from the production?
BR: I hope that both kids and adults go home having had an engaging and interactive experience, during which neither party even thinks about their iPads or phones. And yes, I acknowledge the irony that Siri is a character in this adaptation!

OS: What’s your favorite line from the show?
BR: In this adaptation of Sleeping Beauty, I have written the lamest joke that ever fell out of my brain. It is a reference to The Jeffersons — I don’t want to ruin it for people, but it is what I call a “one percenter”. If just one dad gets the joke and chortles at it, I am pleased. Sometimes the dumbest jokes are my favorite.

What’s up next for Brandon? He’ll be playing Gremio in this fall’s The Taming of the Shrew, a challenging role that he is looking forward to with anticipation. Sleeping Beauty runs through July 28. Tickets ($9 and $12) are available at www.orlandoshakes.org or by calling the Box Office at (407) 447-1700.
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