Arts Adapt during Pandemic: Open Arts Alliance Forms Leadership Councils

The pandemic has devastated the arts around the world. Here in Greenwich the Open Arts Alliance, which is coming into its sixth year, has adapted as best as possible.

In fact, they are in the midst of holding remote auditions for two spring productions. Performances of “You’re A Good Man, Charlie Brown” will occur outdoors in socially-distant form while “Clue” will perform virtually.

Dyer Steele, a member of the Open Arts Alliance Junior Leadership Council.

Executive Director Rocco Natale explained that Open Arts Alliance is unique because it is a social services organization.

Natale said this year the theater company launched a junior leadership council for middle schoolers and a leadership council for the high school performers.

“We launched these two leadership groups because kids in our program expressed interest in wanting to lead, and we needed to give them a formal position to be able to mentor the younger students,” Natale said, adding that the councils have an educational aspect.

The leadership council members, who are from both public and private schools, are required to read three different articles about leadership during the year: an academic article, a non profit management article and a popular culture article.

Ava Passamano, a member of the Open Arts Alliance Junior Leadership Council.

There aren’t enough opportunities for kids to learn how to be leaders,” Natale said. “What I’m proud of is we’re teaching kids to lead within our organization, but also to be leaders at school and in other civic organizations.”

Performers applied to be part of the leadership councils over the summer.

As part of the application process they wrote an essay on leadership, and explained both why they wanted to participate and what they expected to learn.

“It’s a pretty rigorous process,” Natale said, adding that the interviews were conducted via Zoom.

Once students were accepted onto one of the leadership councils, they selected which of three committees to participate in: the committee for social change, marketing/PR, or the special events committee.

“The kids are awesome,” Natale said. “They’re respectful with each other and if they disagree, it’s on issues. It’s never personal.”

We talked to two of the members of the Junior Leadership Council – Dyer Steele and Ava Passamano about their participation and the service project they initiated.

Dyer, 11, a 7th grader at Eastern Middle School, said he started with Open Arts Alliance when Natale was the play director at the Boys & Girls Club of Greenwich.

“I followed him and I’ve done all the main stage productions,” he said, adding that he was preparing for his audition for You’re a Good Man , Charlie Brown later in the evening.

“The project we’re doing now is making Stay Safe Bags,” he said, adding that the leadership meetings are on Zoom on Tuesday nights. “There are six of us, and we each make eight bags.”

“Our plan is to get the bags to people who are less fortunate or are not able to get essential items,” he said. “We are buying them and assembling them ourselves.”

Dyer commented on Natale.

“There are so many good things about Rocco,” Dyer said. “He’s very caring and understanding. He works to better people. He doesn’t just assume people are the best. He takes it slower for the newer people who are just getting into this interest.”

Ava Passamano, 12, also a 7th grader at Eastern Middle School, said she had been involved with the Open Arts Alliance for four years, and that initially a friend suggested she participate.

She has had parts in Into the Woods, Annie and Frozen. She was part of Mary Poppins this spring, and although there were rehearsals, the show did not go on.

“I’m so excited about the leadership council,” she said, adding that the Stay Safe bags were the result of brainstorming ways to do community service in the middle of a pandemic.

“There are so many opportunities to give back to the community and have fun,” she said.

Ava said the Stay Safe bags contain individually wrapped masks, hand sanitizer, tissues, toothbrush and toothpaste.

“We’re going to donate them to low income seniors and homeless shelters in the community,” she explained, adding that during leadership council meetings, the members had brainstormed different ideas.

“We thought this idea was best during current times,” she said. “We came up with this one and decided it would be best to donate this to people like seniors if they might not be able to afford things like masks and hand sanitizer to stay safe during Covid-19.”

“I’m very grateful that I’m not one of the people receiving the bags because I have a home and a family,” she added.

As for You’re a Good Man Charlie Brown, Ava said she already sent in her audition.

“With the auditions, normally you’d audition in person, but because of the virus we can’t,” Ava explained. “You send in a video of singing and reading a monologue of a character.”

Ava shared her thoughts on the OAA director.

“Rocco is very nice and he’s always really helpful. If you have any question about anything, you can go to Rocco and he’ll be nice and have a good answer,” Ava said.

Open Arts Alliance Announces Auditions for Not One, But Two Spring Productions

Greenwich’s Rocco Natale: When Passion for Theater Shines On All You Do