An Intern’s Insight
A Night in New Orleans: A Magic Tree House Adventure is running at the Orlando Shakes until November 23. As an intern for the Theater’s Marketing Department, I was asked to write a blog post about the show, as well as On Stage with Jack & Annie — a pre-show event created with education in mind. The idea is to give students a better understanding of theater via a “backstage pass.” Students are shown what goes on behind-the-scenes, with an exclusive look at everything from technical cues to actor warm-ups.
The program opened with Director of Education Anne Hering explaining what pre-show tasks must be done before each performance. The preparations began with actors (dressed in plainclothes) testing their mics. Hering introduced each actor and the role(s) they would be playing, and explained how their mics function on stage. One of the early standout moments featured actor Joel Oramas. Knowing his audience, Oramas grabbed the students’ attention using a fun, whimsical accent. Before leaving the stage, a sound technician requested he do an “evil laugh” and Oramas obliged. The kids roared with laughter.
The Magic Tree House itself fascinated the students, as during the show it moves from backstage to downstage center. Several students shouted “Whoa!” and were astonished that the massive set piece could move with the help of a computer and a pulley system. The kids were able to learn about this process, and even helped stage management by calling attention to a loose board on stage!
Hering led into the next section of the program by introducing the set. This is when the educational value of the program was most evident, as the students noted objects located within the tree house. One student asked if the sword on stage was real. Hering said that the sword was a prop created by the Orlando Shakes’ in house Properties Department. This was a missing piece of the puzzle in their understanding of theater.
Hering finished On Stage with Jack & Annie with two hands-on activities. The first was “shakedown”, a warmup that theater vets know well. The students caught on to this immediately, and from a distance it may have resembled a five star general and her well oiled military machine. Hering saved the best for last, though, as she began a fast-paced musical activity. Hering split the audience up into three sections, and utilized a four-beat pattern. Section one was asked to clap on the 1st and 3rd beats. Section two was asked to make the sound of a sweeping broom for all four beats. Section three was asked to say “Pies here!” on the 3rd and 4th beat. This music would later be mimicked by actors at the beginning of A Night in New Orleans. Upon the conclusion of On Stage with Jack & Annie, Hering asked the kids if they had fun. They answered with a resounding (and loud) “YES!”. The program was everything I hoped it would be for the students: educational, enjoyable, and an ideal opportunity to step outside the classroom and learn about theater.
Coming in as a 20 year old college student, I had never heard of The Magic Tree House series; but as the show started a cast member asked the audience, “Who here knows about The Magic Tree House?” Nearly every hand in the Margeson Theater shot toward the ceiling. I guess I should acquaint myself with the series because children are going to be reading it for generations. Author Mary Pope Osborne has created a phenomenon, and I’m happy to say that it’s getting kids excited about reading.
The show itself was tastier than a pot of Dipper’s best gumbo. The acting, costumes, set, direction, choreography, and live orchestra were all up to Orlando Shakes’ standards. I was impressed with the actors’ excellent use of the stage space. The cadence of the simple, yet New Orleanian choreography was fantastic. I also applaud the technical team for their creative use of light, sound, and the trapdoor, particularly in the sequence with the ghost. Once again, Orlando Shakes took well written material and did it justice. The kids loved the performance, and handled mature subjects like race relations and poverty with understanding and compassion.
My experiences here can be summed up in a single statement: it has been a pleasure to work with an organization that prides itself – from top to bottom – on pleasing the audience and giving the best theatrical experience possible.
Matt Stephen is a marketing intern at Orlando Shakespeare Theater. He currently studies advertising and public relations at the University of Central Florida. Stephen enjoys film, spending time with his pets at home, and exploring Orlando’s cultural attractions – especially the theater.