The Show Must Go On: Off Beat Players Adapts to Covid

Off Beat Players (OBP), a Greenwich non-profit was founded by Kim Malara in 2001 with the goal of creating an “inclusive” theater company that meshed together individuals with and without disabilities. 

Emily Bass, who serves as the producer on OBP’s production team, said the group’s goal remains inclusivity in the performing arts. Reached by Phone, Bass shared what OBP has in store for the Greenwich communityin summer 2020.

“Kim Malara came up with the idea, and she connected with a couple High School students, telling them she had a vision of creating a theater company that would provide people with disabilities opportunity by giving them lead roles in shows–which is what we do every summer. We have evolved so much since her initial vision,” Ms Bass said.

Cameron Kittell, Lauren Mickley and David Tovar at Off-Beat Players rehearsal for Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat. July 31, 2019 Photo: Leslie Yager
Cameron Kittell, Lauren Mickley and David Tovar at Off-Beat Players rehearsal for Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat. July 31, 2019 Photo: Leslie Yager
Michael Busani and Michelle Yoon at Off-Beat Players rehearsal for Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat. July 31, 2019 Photo: Leslie Yager

OBP now boasts around 50 participants, many returning summer after summer, including students and alumni from Greenwich High School, Sacred Heart, Brunswick, Greenwich Academy, and Greenwich Country Day School. OBP has a production team of six, which includes a producer, a director, a program director, a music director, and, owing to the current COVID situation,  a video editor.

In addition, OBP has a board that makes the wider decisions for the organization. Individuals with disabilities are involved in every aspect of OBP.

“One thing we do know is that Off Beat Players would never cancel.” – Emily Bass in OBP 2020 Announcement on Youtube

“We have people with and without disabilities working on the technical side, working on the production team, and actually performing. Everything we do combines people with ALL ability levels,” Bass added.

OBP has since its founding moved from Arch Street Teen Center to the performing arts center at Greenwich Country Day School, which can accommodate 400 people, and has allowed for expanded possibilities for OBP.

Miss Bass added, “This is our 11th year as Off Beat Players, but it had been happening longer than that under the name of “Anything’s Possible Players. It has been 11 yrs of us doing the full length musicals, first at Arch St Teen Center and then at GCDS.”

In a typical summer, cast members prepare for their performance for eight weeks. Past performances have included Bye Bye Birdie, James and the Giant Peach, and High School Musical.

Throughout OBP’s eight-week program, program instructors work closely, and often individually, with cast members to hone their skills and find ways to best display them at the final performance.

“The performing arts has so many components. We have people who love to dance, and we have other kids who love to sing or act. One of our goals is to find everyone’s individuals strengths and put them in a place where they can shine. it is amazing to see how many kids come out of their shells when you give them these opportunities,” Bass added.

This summer rehearsals are being conducted on Zoom for two hours a day, with time built in for instructors to have individual sessions with cast members, and different forms of artistic expression are being explored, such as play writing and sketch comedy.

“We created a virtual program this year,” Bass said. “We have been rehearsing through Zoom, which has been hectic and crazy, but also awesome. Pretty much everyone who is a part of Off Beat Players would agree that we really are like a family, and no one could imagine their summer without it. We want more than anything to be able to be together, and do all the things we used to do, but even getting to see each other on zoom every night has meant so much.”

The result of this work will be a three-part performance: the first part will consist of songs and scenes from Rogers and Hammerstein shows, such as Cinderella. The second part is a reading of Charlotte’s Web. The third part is a variety show that will include skits and songs.

The first performance aired on July 31, and will be available for three weeks.

The next two performances air on August 7 and August 14. Only one ticket purchase of $20 is needed per family to view all three performances online, and tickets are being sold on the Off Beat Players website.

“For many participants Off Beat Players is the only show they do all summer because opportunities for people with disabilities to participate in a production like this are, unfortunately, few and far between,” Bass said. “The fact that we are able to provide this to them is everything to us, as well as is the fact that we are able to combine people with wide-ranging abilities, and encourage inclusivity within the performing arts.”