Orlando Shakespeare Theater's Additional 'West Side Story' Events to Focus on Diversity and Other Social Issues

Orlando Shakespeare Theater (Orlando Shakes) in Partnership with UCF will host a series of special events focusing on diversity and other social issues affecting the Central Florida community in conjunction with their production of West Side Story (September 7 - October 9, 2016). Tickets to West Side Story are available now by calling (407) 447-1700 ext. 1, visiting www.orlandoshakes.org, or in person at the John and Rita Lowndes Shakespeare Center (812 East Rollins Street).

"With themes of prejudice against Latinos, forbidden mixed-race relationships, and gang and gun violence, West Side Story is just as relevant in today's society as it was when it first opened on Broadway 59 years ago," said Jim Helsinger, Artistic Director at Orlando Shakespeare Theater. "We've planned these additional special events to give our community an outlet to voice their feelings about these important topics that affect many of their lives on a daily basis."

Following select Saturday matinees of West Side Story, Orlando Shakes will present "Dialogues on Diversity," a succession of panel discussions featuring local Hispanic community leaders. Panelists will address questions of diversity, tolerance, and cultural identity in the Central Florida community while encouraging audience members to join the conversation. Current panelists include Carlos Carbonell, CEO of Echo Interaction Group; Jared Nordlund, National Council of LaRaza; and Diana Bolivar, Hispanic Chamber of Commerce of Metro Orlando. Additional community leaders and dialogue panels to be announced at a later date. For updates, please visit www.orlandoshakes.org.

"The themes of West Side Story resonate with a number of societal issues the City Beautiful has been confronted with recently. Tolerance, acceptance, and inclusiveness are some of the issues this beloved story touches on," said MaritzA Martinez, Associate Vice President of Community Relations at the University of Central Florida. "We would like to use West Side Story as a tool to either keep conversations around these topics going, or better yet--spark open dialogue around these topics beyond the performance experience."

In addition to their "Dialogues on Diversity" series, Orlando Shakes will pay tribute to the victims of the Pulse nightclub shooting with a special "Angel Action Wings for Orlando" display in their lobby. The display will rotate to honor the 49 Pulse victims during performances. The individuals highlighted in the lobby during the performance will also be featured in the curtain speech.

"Orlando's Angel Wings have become an inspiring image of love and unity in our community," said Helsinger. "We are honored to be able to use them to pay tribute to those who lost their lives because they chose to love openly and wholly. In the end, love always wins."

The "Angel Action Wings for Orlando" were originally constructed in Orlando Shakes' Costume Shop by volunteers to shield mourners from anti-gay protesters during the Pulse funerals. They have since been used at the "Beautiful Together" benefit concert held at the Dr. Phillips Center and at a number of other national community events.

Jay Norman, cast member of the original 1957 Broadway production of West Side Story and 1961 film, will also be in attendance as a guest speaker during opening night of Orlando Shakes production of West Side Story on Friday, September 9, 2016. Norman will discuss his role in the original production and film, and give a first-hand account of the relevance of the musical's underlying themes in today's society.

West Side Story is presented by Massey Services with additional support from Dr. Phillips Charities, University of Central Florida Office of the President, and the University of Central Florida College of Arts & Humanities.

Orlando Shakespeare Theater recognizes its 28th Season Producing Partners: John and Rita Lowndes, Ken and Trisha Margeson, Albert and Elisabeth Prast, Jim and Diana Barnes, Toni Jennings, Frank Santos and Dan Dantin, Jim and Valerie Shapiro, Bryce L. West, Gordon and Susan Arkin, Suzanne E. Gilbert, Stephen Goldman and Melanie Love, Grant Gribble and Jack Hanson, Jack Lord and Adam Hunter, Dr. Francille MacFarland, Lester and Sonia Mandell, A. Brian Phillips, Dr. Rick Schell and Scott Joseph, Simon and Ellen Snyder, Chuck and Margery Pabst Steinmetz, Dr. Mary Palmer, Alexis C. Pugh, Ed and Cheryl Timberlake, and Dr. Jessica Vaught.

Orlando Shakespeare Theater is supported by United Arts of Central Florida.This project is funded in part by Orange County Government through the Arts & Cultural Affairs Program. Orlando Shakespeare Theater is also sponsored in part by the Department of State, Division of Cultural Affairs, the Florida Council on Arts and Culture, and the State of Florida.

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