The Open Arts Alliance has a new home! Last month the non profit arts organization moved into new digs at River House Adult Day Center, which Executive Director Rocco Natale described as a perfect fit.
In fact, Open Arts Alliance has been doing senior programs there for several years, including during the pandemic via Zoom.
And now OAA has a new program director, Jake Lloyd.
“Jake joined us in late June and has been an incredible director and asset to the organization in the past month,” Natale said.
The views from OAA’s offices at GADC are amazing. Natale joked that often when people visit for the first time they recall memories of the building’s origins as a pump house and jumping off the roof into Mianus Pond.
Not that there’s much time to gaze at the view.
Mr. Lloyd hit the deck running and is busy planning the fall season for Open Arts Alliance.
Originally from Syracuse, Mr. Lloyd is a writer and director. He has taught theater and music in a New Jersey private school for 13 years.
As program director, Mr. Lloyd will coordinate the fall season and hire teachers.
“It’s part directing and part administration,” he explained. “I’m part artist, part businessman.”
Mr. Lloyd, who lives in Manhattan and works at the private school in New Jersey, met Mr. Natale 10 years ago at a BMI Writers theater writing workshop.
Joking that it was time to get a car, he said he had enjoyed working as a contractor for Natale in Greenwich over the years, including helping out with the musicals at the Boys & Girls Club and YMCA.
“When he asked me to take the job, it all clicked. The lights went off,” he said. “I like that I’m branching out in a new community. I’m thrilled to be working with Rocco as a good friend who I completely respect and trust. We’re polar opposites, but we have a yin and yang thing between us.”
This summer OAA produced Seussical, which was postponed from last summer due the pandemic. The project involved a two week workshop in conjunction with the Town Players of New Canaan, with performances before a live audience at the Power House Theater at Waveny Park, where they also rehearsed.
This summer was the first time OAA performed at the 110 seat theater.
“They have all the bells and whistles,” he added. “Everything from props and costumes, to dressing rooms and lighting grids.”
“The theater is really charming, and has a barn-like feel,” Lloyd continued. “The power house reference was from when the original estate had its own power grid inside the Tudor style structure.”
Waveny House was Christopher Lloyd’s childhood home.
“His mother sold it to the town of New Canaan and they converted it in the 60s or 70s into a theater,” Mr. Lloyd said.
This summer OAA also produced musicals The Last Five Years and The Marvelous Wonderettes.
All told, the three summer productions included 40 youth, an encouraging number considering the pandemic is not over.
“None of us had a normal year, but we felt pretty positive,” he said. “And we’re pleased for people to be performing live.”
Lloyd said the summer program gave OAA momentum heading into the fall.
In fact, Natale and Lloyd are rethinking the overall structure of their programming, with offerings based more along the lines of a student’s grade level in school than creating casts of varied ages.
“Meeting them where they’re at, and not out-shined by the big kids or babied if they’re the young kids. It gives kids chances to grow where they are with their peers,” Lloyd said.
This fall, OAA will produce 101 Dalmations for youth in grades 1-5, The Adams Family for youth in grades 6-8, and A Christmas Carol for grades 9-12.
Mr. Lloyd directed The Adams Family with his private school students.
“I went over really well,” he said.
“When you divide into grade levels you can structure a show that’s age appropriate instead of a show that’s appropriate for everybody. It speaks to where they are intellectually and emotionally,” he explained. “No tenth grader wants to be doing puppies and Cruella.”
Mr. Lloyd said he enjoys teaching middle schoolers.
“It’s an interesting mix of kids, which is why I love it so much. I wish there were more people who understood middle schoolers. They just need a little room to breathe without judgement.”
“Middle school is the most challenging time in their lives, but it’s the most rewarding,” he explained. “As a teacher, you have a hand in facilitating their interests. Seeing middle school kids have something really tailored to them – they really thrive.”
Lloyd said The Adams Family focuses on the strain between parents and children, and the character Wednesday faces the same problems middle schoolers face.
“That’s the story line – that’s middle school. They’re trying to identify themselves. Wednesday says, ‘I hate being an Adams because, we’re so weird and kookey,’ but it’s ultimately the kookiness that saves her and helps her find her place in the world. Which is where middle school kids are, but don’t want to admit it.”
Currently, the Open Arts Alliance is registering students for the fall season.
Classes start Sept 11 and 12. Registration is open through then, but there is are caps and OAA expect slots to fill for all three productions.
The Adams Family and 101 Dalmations have a weekday option and a weekend option. A Christmas Carol meets Sundays from 1:00 to 3:00pm.
They welcome all kids with an interest in theater. There are no cuts.
Next spring OAA hopes to produce bigger shows, which will be more traditionally run. This fall, they’re looking for their next big stars.
“This fall we’re looking a training versus just performance,” Lloyd said.
Lloyd said applications will be available soon for the OAA Leadership Council. Students who participate in Leadership Council do a lot of outreach to the River House community and lead some of the classes.
There is both a Jr Leadership Council for middle schoolers and Leadership Council for high schoolers. Both are application based.
Click here for more information on Open Arts Alliance and registering in fall programs.