WINTER PARK — Wade Hair spent 13 years teaching in the public schools, starting as an English teacher. In his last few years, he became a high school drama teacher.
In those four years – two at Ocoee High School and two at Wekiva High – there was a long list of plays he longed to produce … except the subject matter or content was too adult for a high school audience.
So Hair branched out. He started a theater company of his own, The Breakthrough Theatre, found a building to rent in Winter Park, and threw himself into producing the kind of shows that didn’t quite fit in with his teaching job.
“I always pick shows that I love, shows I’ve always wanted to do,” he said. “When I taught high school, I couldn’t do them — and now I can. I pick shows that appeal to me first.”
The Breakthrough Theatre, located at 419A W. Fairbanks Ave., opened in July 2009.
“In our first season, the plays were more obscure, maybe more controversial, a lot of gay themed plays – those were the plays I liked,” he said. “Season two I opened it up a little more, opened it up to more family-friendly and popular shows.”
Now, as Breakthrough gears up for its third season, Hair is still offering a mix of both – including classics that would be fine on a high school stage, to more obscure fare.
“I try to do a good mix of popular shows and some that are not as well known, and some that are not known at all — that I want people to know,” he said.
A good example is the show kicking off the third season: “The Civil War,” a short lived Broadway musical about that devastating war between the North and the South over slavery and state’s rights. The Frank Wildhorn musical opens at Breakthrough on July 29 and runs through Aug. 21.
Hair is directing the show, which premiered on Broadway on April 22, 1999 and closed on June 13 after 61 performances and 35 previews. The musical later toured the U.S. starting in January 2000 in Cincinnati, Ohio. The original cast of 28, which had been reduced to 15, also made a stop in Orlando at the Bob Carr Performing Arts Center that year.
“ ‘The Civil War’ only lasted a month on Broadway,” Hair said. “It’s a show that not very many people know. I was one of the lucky few that saw it on Broadway. Every time I’ve seen it, it’s just had me in tears. It’s incredibly beautiful. When I saw it, the audience was on its feet, cheering. I thought it was amazing. There was a tour and it came through the Bob Carr, and it was totally revamped. The revamped version, I thought, was even better.”
Hair said he’s not quite sure why the musical closed so quickly.
“It just could never find an audience,” he said. “I think people just weren’t sure what it was. ‘What are we seeing?’ I think people were afraid of the subject matter, maybe, and how they could turn that into a musical. But it’s a beautiful show, one of my favorites.”
Hair hopes the musical finds an audience when it comes to Breakthrough. Then again, he has good experience finding an audience, considering that his theater opened in the midst of a national recession that hit Florida particularly hard.
Despite the economic woes that made it difficult for older established theaters to keep their box office numbers intact, “I think it helped that my space was so small,” he said. “The bigger theaters have more seats to fill, where I only had 50 seats. That helps. We never really had a problem finding an audience. The community really supported us from the beginning, and luckily it has grown. The community has really just accepted us right away. We found an audience really fast.”
Hair hopes that audience turns for his third season, which will include productions of
“12 Angry Men” (Sept. 2–18) by Reginald Rose, “Agnes of God” (Sept. 30–Oct. 16) by John Pielmeier, “Bare: A Pop Opera” (Nov. 4–27) with music by Damon Intrabartolo and lyrics by Jon Hartmere, and “It’s a Wonderful Life: A Live Radio Play” (Dec. 8–18).
That final production, he said, will be a bit different from the beloved movie version or some other recent theatrical revivals of the Jimmy Stewart holiday saga.
“People love it,” he said. “This is different because it’s a radio play, because it’s based on a 1940s radio program. It will be performed like it was an old time radio show, with commercials and jingles and singers. I want to do a show that’s popular — with a twist.”
He hopes for the same with “Agnes of God” and “12 Angry Men,” both known for popular movie versions.
“With ‘Agnes of God,’ some people might know the movie, but I haven’t seen it performed on stage here in this area in a long time,” he said. “I saw the revival of ’12 Angry Men’ on Broadway a few years ago and fell in love with it again. I think it’s definitely a relevant show today and I thought it was time to reintroduce it. I’m so excited to jump on season three.”
As if that wasn’t enough, Breakthrough will offer a summer drama camp for elementary and middle-school students from June 13–July 14, to run Mondays through Fridays (except July 4) from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Students will learn acting, singing, dancing, and improvisation skills from experienced instructors, and get a snack and drink every day.
The camp concludes with on-stage experience: eight performances of “School House Rock Live! Jr.” on July 15, 16, 21, 22, and 23 at 7 p.m. and July 16, 17, and 23 at 2 p.m.
The camp will accommodate 20 students, and all of the students will perform in the musical. No experience is necessary.
“We did our first season with a summer school, and we had a few middle schools students,” Hair said. “This year it seems like most of the big theaters are doing stuff geared toward high schools, so I decided to go with elementary and middle schools here. We decided to do a production of ‘School House Rock Live!’ with 20 kids doing some improvisation and singing and dancing and acting, and it all culminates in this production. It’s a cute show and I think we’ll have a great time.”
The camp costs $300, with a $50 deposit required to secure a spot. For a registration form, visit the theater or go to the website at www.breakthroughtheatre.com and click on “Summer Registration Page.”
To learn more, call 407-920-4034.
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