Open Arts Alliance: Beyond the Stage, Growing Confident Leaders

Open Arts Alliance, the Greenwich based non-profit theater group that shares space with River House in Cos Cob, is always a hive of activity.

Founded by Rocco Natale in 2012, OAA has staged a variety of shows over the years, including The Marvelous Wonderettes, Seussical, 101 Dalmations, The Adams Family, and A Christmas Carol, Aladdin Kids, A Christmas Story, and the challenging Sweeney Todd – just to name a few.

Typically rehearsals are held at River House and performances rotate to different venues.

But OAA is much more than a youth theater group. Natale’s mission for OAA from the start was to foster an inter-generational connection. Even before OAA officially began to share space at River House they held senior programs there for many years.

OAA founder Rocco Natale leads a joint meeting of the Leadership Council and Junior Leadership Council at River House as parent volunteer Sam Steele looks on. Feb 26, 2024 Photo Leslie Yager


Beyond that, Natale in 2019  introduced OAA Junior Leadership Council (grades 6-8) and Leadership Council (high school) with the goals of giving back to the community and growing confident leaders. OAA kids apply annually for the free program.

This week both Leadership Councils met in the evening at River House, where they started by reflecting on their experiences.

“It’s a positive environment, so I just naturally enjoy being here,” said Coco a Leadership Council member. “You get a variety of people to talk to, as people you become friends with. And they teach us about leadership and being able to express our ideas.”

Open Arts Alliance Leadership Council members met at River House. Feb 26, 2024 Photo: Leslie Yager

“It’s a great way to get involved,” said Molly. “We’ve been planning for the past several meetings our community service project for this year. We’ve been talking about providing cleaning products to those who need them – toiletries and products to clean your house. We know that items like clothes and diapers already have people already working on them.”

“We’re reaching out not solely to just Greenwich and other communities around us. But in this program it’s brought out many great qualities in all of us,” said Olivia Hirsch, a GHS senior.

Nicole said she enjoyed the Leadership Council because it included a variety of ages and members from different towns outside Greenwich.

“I used to be very quiet. Here, it’s definitely more comfortable for a reserved person,” she added. “In every person it brings out a lot of different qualities. Without this program, I wouldn’t have known half these people and it’s brought all walks of life to becoming very good friends.”

During their meeting the groups also discussed possible service projects, a key part of the mission of OAA.

While the students are typically involved with a show – auditioning, rehearsing or performing – Natale’s vision has always been to blend arts education and community engagement.

“Giving back is not just a part of what we do. It’s the whole reason OAA exists. We use theater as a platform to educate and inspire people of all ages and walks of life in our community,” Natale said.

During the pandemic, the Leadership Council organized ‘stay safe bags’ for senior citizens and ran a toy drive for the Dept of Child and Family Services, targeting kids in adoptive or foster care situations.

Parent volunteer Sam Steele talked about possible service projects for Kids in Crisis. Feb 26, 2024 Photo: Leslie Yager

This week the Leadership Councils brainstormed possible service projects to benefit Kids In Crisis.

Sam Steele, a parent volunteer for the OAA Leadership Councils, led a discussion about what projects would be both meaningful and close to the heart.

She noted that the staff at Kids in Crisis were extremely busy and any projects would need to bear that in mind.

Some of the ideas ranged from cooking a meal for residents either off site or at Kids in Crisis, to assembling holiday or craft boxes for the younger children – or even coming in and doing crafts with them.

“You’re all part of a family and it’s hard to imagine somebody else’s situation, but Kids in Crisis is a shelter,” Ms Steele explained. “If there is a trauma in a family or an unsafe situation in the home, or a situation where mom and dad have no support, Kids in Crisis will step in and make sure the kids are clothed and fed and enjoying themselves. I can’t think of a greater resource, ever.”

OAA founder Rocco Natale led a discussion about giving back to the community. Feb 26, 2024 Photo: Leslie Yager

Also, during the meeting Mr. Natale talked about the upcoming “S’more Fun” event to take place at the Greenwich Historical Society.

The event is for the casts of both upcoming shows – Sound of Music and KC@Bat – and a chance for cast members to meet and get to know each other outside of rehearsals, in particular to give the younger children a chance to connect with the older kids.

While the meeting included joking and laughing, Natale said the Leadership Council members would be valuable at the “S’More Fun” event.

“There’s a lot of new people and you are the faces of the organization,” Natale said. “Go up to little kids and their families and introduce yourselves. Tell them you are on the Leadership Council, and ask how you can be of help. There is hot chocolate and all the fun things, but you are the ones to facilitate that.”

Learn more about Open Arts Alliance online.
Questions? Email: [email protected]

Members of both the Open Arts Alliance Leadership Council and Junior Leadership Council. Feb 26, 2024 Photo: Leslie Yager