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Oregon Children's Theatre Announces A SEASON REIMAGINED

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OCT will offer high quality online performances and classes and will not produce in-person performances through May 2021.

Oregon Children's Theatre Announces A SEASON REIMAGINED

Oregon Children's Theatre has announced plans for its 2020-2021 season, "A Season Reimagined." Though the organization will not produce in-person performances through at least May 2021 following local and national safety guidelines surrounding COVID-19, it will produce unique online productions and co-produced performances, as well as offering online classes through its acclaimed Acting Academy program.

Artistic Director Marcella Crowson sees potential in this reimagined season of performances. While the COVID-19 pandemic thrust many arts organizations into turmoil, Crowson took the opportunity to focus the organization in a different direction. "We are looking at new ways to bring theater to everyone, with our own signature stamp on the performances that our community has come to trust and love," she explains. "We are focusing on accessibility, inclusivity, and great storytelling. We're ready to expand our offerings despite the cancelation of a 'traditional' season of performances."

In many ways, OCT is experiencing and learning right alongside its patrons and families, as well as the rest of the world. "We recognize that this year is going to be unusual, and that each week brings new information," Crowson continues. "Our goal is to be as nimble as possible with the changing world around us, while still offering entertainment to our audiences and classes to our families."

OCT was already poised for substantial change in 2021, with plans to further expand its Acting Academy classes. In 2019, OCT's Acting Academy successfully opened two satellite classroom locations in SW Portland's Multnomah Village and North Portland's Curious Comedy Theater. The shift from in-person to online classes has provided an avenue for classes to expand even further, beyond geographic limitations. Additionally, OCT's physical location was slated for change as well, with its "headquarters" on Sandy Boulevard being put on the market in late 2019. "In many ways, the current pandemic has simply sped up a timeline for us," says Ross McKeen, Managing Director at OCT. "We had plans to vacate the Northeast Sandy building by the end of this year, and we were developing a 'hub-and-spoke model' for our Acting Academy classes to grow through 2021. While the changes feel tumultuous, it is a great opportunity for us to better understand what is necessary and valuable in a new physical space, while granting us time to be thoughtful about where we need and want to be."

OCT saw success earlier this summer with two online performances, The Girl Who Swallowed a Cactus in July, written by Eric Coble, and a nationally co-produced performance of A Kids Play About Racism in August, adapted from Portland author Jelani Memory's best-selling book, A Kids Book About Racism. OCT will produce more online shows through the next nine months and will partner with other children's theater organizations nationally to co-produce shows that reach a wider audience nationwide. "When we co-produced A Kids Play About Racism, we saw many children's theaters joining together, sharing resources and working to bring an important story to life in a way that was accessible for all children," Crowson reflects. "That model was successful in many ways, and we are looking forward to creating new and strengthening existing relationships with other organizations around the country."

Meanwhile, the Young Professionals Company at OCT (its award-winning teen mentoring program) has already made plans to produce all its shows this season online. Their season will include a virtual production of In the Forest She Grew Fangs by Stephen Spotswood, as well as a cabaret-style performance series entitled Breaking Character. The annual improv troupe performance Impulse is also making adjustments to perform virtually. Currently, several of the teens are the faces of OCT's fall fundraising campaign entitled "Let Your Light Shine," which highlights OCT's most valuable and cherished voices - the youth it serves - via personal stories of how the organization has impacted them over the years. "In the Young Professionals Company we are always pushing and challenging our teens to think outside the box and strive to learn, and the current situation is doing just that," says Dani Baldwin, Artistic Director of the Young Professionals Company. "We see this season, as unusual as it is, as a learning opportunity for our teens to experience a new way of performing and producing shows."

School field trips and in-school programs have always been a cornerstone of OCT's programming and since they will not be possible this coming year, OCT recognizes the need to serve one of its largest audiences: schools and educators. "We feel very passionately about our school services and programming, so not welcoming thousands of kids into the theater this year will feel like a void," Crowson commented. "That said, we are still dedicated to serving children and their teachers in other effective ways. We are prioritizing programs to be a resource to educators as they navigate distance learning with their students." One way OCT will provide support for educators is through its Educational Theatre Program, a collaboration with Kaiser Permanente, to provide virtual professional development focused on the social and emotional well-being of educators, as well as a video series connecting children's literature to activities focused on social-emotional learning standards, anti-racism, character-building, and more. OCT will also be making virtual performances, including A Kids Play About Racism, free and readily accessible to educators and schools.

Like its colleagues in the performing arts community, OCT has experienced the economic turmoil created by the COVID-19 crisis. OCT has been successfully navigating these challenges, having raised $345,000 in donations and grants since March 2020, and securing loan funds from the Small Business Administration's Paycheck Protection Program, and its Economic Injury Disaster Loan fund. While this puts the organization in a stable place for now, OCT will still be reliant on contributions to continue its programming in the absence of ticket sales. "We are so grateful to our donors, the families we serve and for the grant opportunities we have been awarded as we pivot to this 'new normal,'" explains McKeen. "We recognize that we are in a better position than some other organizations, but we are still evaluating and developing strategies to keep offering high-quality productions and classes until we are able to return to the physical stage." OCT is currently planning to make its online performances accessible and affordable, but they will encourage donations to help offset the production costs. Donations can be made online at octc.org/donate.



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