At the Breakthrough Theatre, a cast of very likeable people just looking to be normal.

The cast of "Looking for Normal" invites us into their humble little home at the Breakthrough Theatre. (Photo by Michael Freeman).

WINTER PARK – Imagine you’ve been putting it off for a very long time, but suddenly you feel you simply can’t hold off that journey any more. It’s something you’ve been avoiding, because you were afraid of taking such a huge leap of faith. But deep inside, you’ve known for a very long while that it’s only a matter of time before you have to start walking down that path.
In the opening scene of Jane Anderson’s play “Looking for Normal,” Roy and Irma have been married for 24 years, but they’ve hit a rough patch and have turned to their local minister, Rev. Muncie, for assistance. Roy seems depressed, and agitated. He still loves Irma, he insists, but there are problems he’s dealing with.
The reverend smiles, and asks Irma to leave the room. It seems pretty obvious to him what the matter is: Roy, now in his 50s, is likely feeling the affects of aging and has lost some of his sex drive, a common problem that the minister hears frequently from other married men. He assures Roy that if this is the problem, it’s absolutely nothing to be ashamed of.
But as it turns out, the minister is way off. Roy’s problem has nothing to do with a lower sex drive. His problem is that for decades, the boy who grew up the only son in a family where he had several sisters always felt like something wasn’t quite right about himself. He hid all this deep within himself for years, too embarrassed to talk about it with anyone. The truth is, Roy always felt like a woman trapped inside a man’s body, and he no longer wants to struggle with this challenge. He’s made a major decision: to get a sex change, and finally become the woman he always believes he was meant to be.
Needless to say, for both the small town reverend and for Roy’s loyal wife Irma, it’s the start of a long, bumpy, totally confusing journey. Of all the problems Roy could have been struggling with, this one was about the last thing they had expected.
One of the interesting things about Anderson’s play is that while it sometimes screams out “Hot button social issue,” it does so in a calm and measured way. It doesn’t always work smoothly. Anderson creates a series of short vignettes that follow how Irma and Roy, and their children, struggle to cope with the drastic changes that Roy’s decision has brought into their lives.
Some of it is done quite beautifully, including Irma’s decision early on to ask Roy to move out of the house now that he wants to become a woman, only to find herself rallying to his side when he becomes scared, depressed and suicidal.
At other times, though, Anderson’s use of a kind of true-life situational humor feels forced, including scenes where Roy becomes cranky and irritable while undergoing hormone treatments, or when he and his wife and daughter talk about his newly emerging breasts. At moments like this, Anderson moves shakily between feeling like a Lifetime channel movie of the week and “Glen and Glenda.”
On the other hand, it’s hard not to watch this play without understanding this is not some wild scenario, but one that’s been reflected in some recent high profile news stories — including one here in Florida. In February 2007, City Commissioners in the town of Largo near Tampa voted to fire its city manager, Steve Stanton, after he announced that he planned to get a sex change operation. Stanton, 48 at the time, said he was receiving hormone therapy in preparation for surgery and would undergo a “gender assignment” to become Susan Stanton.
You can also look at the recent appearance of Chaz Bono — born a girl named Chastity to celebrates Sonny and Cher Bono before undergoing a similar operation — on “Dancing With The Stars,” and some of the controversy he generated, to know this is a situation that impacts people and their families every day.
One of the play’s great strengths, in terms of the production at the Breakthrough Theatre of Winter Park, is the absolutely superb performances by actors who truly do bring these simple characters to life.  Every time Anderson’s play starts to make them seem like an archetype – Roy the real nice guy who deserves support in his quest to be a woman, Irma the nice woman who is just so confused about how to handle this – the actors breathe a remarkable amount of poignance and sincerity into every word they speak.
Tim Bass is convincing as Roy because of the way this 50-something man ranges between acting like an adult who has finally decided to gain control of his life, to looking like an excited kid who has dreamed for years of going to Disney World and is finally getting there. Sometimes as he walks that balance between sober minded adult ready to change his sex, to kid finally getting his cherished toy, Roy stumbles through an awful lot of genuine fear and anxiety.  His parents are conservative, and so is his church, and his wife can’t figure out how they can maintain a marriage as two women. It’s complicated, and nobody know where it’s going to lead them.
Cira Larkin is just as good as the stable, loyal wife who was so happy with things as they were, but doesn’t think she deserved this crazy curve ball that life tossed her way. At time angry, frustrated, and determined to keep her family together, she has few more wonderful moments than when Irma takes it upon herself to start picking out Roy’s new clothes as a woman, knowing he’s going to make a lousy choice if he selects them himself.
“Looking for Normal” manages to transcend its initial TV movie of the week feel, thanks to an abundance of humor that doesn’t feel forced or campy, while the cast is eloquent and real. They’re the kind of people you end up caring deeply about – and you start to root for them to find a way to make all this work.
It’s to Breakthrough Theatre’s great credit that by the end, it’s been such a moving experience to share that journey with them.

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Humor, chills, and beautiful choreography … welcome to the Vampire’s Ball.

Robert Hill, artistic director of the Orlando Ballet, introduces a sneak preview to their upcoming production, "Vampire's Ball." (Photo by Michael Freeman).

ORLANDO – A mad scientist hovers over the eerie looking potions in his laboratory, as a maniacal grin spreads across his face. He raises a massive syringe, then moves toward the victim lying helplessly on a table, in order to inject him with it ….
… and then scientist and victim rise, and …. begin to dance ….
…. ballet, to be precise – and very artistically choreographed ballet moves, at that.
“The doctor sort of experiments with human DNA,” said Robert Hill. “Sometimes it works, and sometimes it doesn’t.”
What Hill is hoping definitely does work out is “Vampire’s Ball,” the Halloween-themed production being put on by the Orlando Ballet, with performances on Friday, Oct. 21 through Sunday, Oct. 23 at the Bob Carr Performing Arts Centre.
“Vampire’s Ball,” an original piece choreographed and staged by Hill, the artistic director of the Orlando Ballet, and it’s meant to be a marriage between ballet and one of popular culture’s favorite themes around this time of year: the tale of terror.
“It’s a very popular theme, obviously, and there are a lot of ways you can handle it – haunted houses and so on,” he said.
This morning, the Orlando Ballet opened its doors at 1111 N. Orange Ave. in downtown Orlando to the local media, for a sneak preview of the production, which is still in the rehearsal phase.
“We do the media preview prior to the public performance,” said Treva J. Marshall, president of TJM Communications Inc., which handles public relations for the Orlando Ballet. “We’re very pleased to talk to you today about the Vampire’s Ball.”
Hill said the idea for this unique production dates back to 2010.
“We thought of the concept last year sometime when we were planning for the new season,” he said. “I think the idea was to create something that’s very interesting on a dance level.”
Employing a large cast of dancers, the show not only has the mad scientist and his monstrous creation, but also a vampire in a black and purple cape, a handsome young couple who wanders into the wrong place at the wrong time, and, as the title indicates, an actual vampire’s ball that the young female victim accidentally wanders into.
During the production, the young couple will perform a romantic dance together in the woods, but as they finish, Hill cautioned that “Of course, the vampires come in and they get abducted and carried away.”

The cast of "Vampire's Ball" poses for a group photo at the Orlando Ballet. (Photo by Michael Freeman).

The production employs music by Midnight Syndicate, a company that produces Halloween-themed music, and the Orlando Ballet has even gone ahead and ordered special vampire teeth, “and ones that fit,” Hill said. “We’re going to put blood on them, too.”
Hill said the production would be a mix of humor, scares, and the kind of dancing that Orlando Ballet has become so highly acclaimed for.
“There are several quite hopefully humorous moments, and I’m poking fun at the horror themes,” he said. “I don’t want this to be taken too, too seriously, but I really want the dancing to be an important part of it – well danced. This is a dance company, after all.”
Hill said he was also grateful to the Orlando Ballet for allowing him to run artistically with such an unusual project as this one.
“I really appreciate how much they allow me to do what I want to do,” he said. “They allow me to indulge myself to the nth degree, to do what I want to do artistically.”
To learn more, call 407-426-1733 or the box office at 407-426-1739, or log on to

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“Don’t Dream It — Be it!” as Rocky Horror returns to CityWalk for midnight shadow-cast screenings.

The cult classic "The Rocky Horror Picture Show" is coming back for shadow-cast screenings at AMC Universal Cineplex at CityWalk.

ORLANDO – It’s just a jump … to the left ….
…. and then a step to the right.
If there’s a tradition that never seems to go out of style around the Halloween season, its Rocky Horror.
Whenever Halloween is on the horizon, it seems like someone revives either Richard O’Brien’s campy play “The Rocky Horror Show,” or a local Cineplex brings back midnight showings of the 1975 movie “The Rocky Horror Picture Show.”
On Friday, it’s the AMC Universal Complex 20 at Universal CityWalk that’s bringing back 12 a.m. shadow-cast screenings of the cult film – so in other words, if you have an old Frank N Furter costume in your closet, get it out. The Rich Weirdos from Transexual, Transylvania, will be on the big screen every second and fourth Friday and Saturday this month.
So how is it that a movie that flopped when it first got released in 1975 would build up such a loyal following, become one of the all time champions as far as cult cinema goes, and continue to lure in audiences today? What’s “Rocky’s” appeal 36 years later?
“It speaks to the outsider and the rebel in all of us,” said theater director and Rollins College professor John DiDonna.
He should know. DiDonna has been playing Frank N Furter in revival productions of “The Rocky Horror Show” for years, including performances at Theatre Downtown in Orlando.
“I may do it again next year,” DiDonna said. “It’s like seeing an old friend after a while. To do it and leave it and to come back has been nice. I’ve been playing it nine times since I was 18 years old, and that’s kind of fun.”
The British rock musical and its film adaptation are spoofs of old B-movie, science fiction and horror films. The film version first started to gain a following as a midnight movie in 1977, when audiences began acting out the story in front of the screen. It’s since become the longest-running theatrical release in film history, and is one of the most financially successful midnight movies of all time. In 2005, the film was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress as being “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant” – not a bad accomplishment for a movie about a Sweet Transvestite mad scientist and his handsome bodybuilding “creature.”
DiDonna said besides the fun of the audience participation, the story captures something else with a timeless appeal: the call it makes for people to be who they really are, and to throw away their inhibitions.
“If you look at the mantra of Rocky Horror, it’s ‘Don’t Dream It, Be It,’ ” DiDonna said, quoting one of the best-known songs in the show, when Frank points out his admiration for Hollywood film star Fay Wray of “King Kong” fame – and wishes he could be dressed just like her.
“It’s about freedom and breaking through your own barriers, in many ways,” DiDonna said. “That’s what people like about it.”
It’s also appealing, he said, because Frank N Furter casts aside society’s shackles to be exactly who he wants to be – even if society does opt to punish him for his rebelliousness.
“We like the dark hero who falls, and Frank N Furter is the dark hero who falls hard, and that’s the kind the theater people like,” DiDonna said.
George Gordon, a photographer in Lake Alfred and self-professed fan of the Rocky Horror cult movement, agreed. He recalled watching the movement grow back when he was a college student in the late 1970s and early 1980s.
“We had friends who were coming out of the closet,” he said. “This is where people could feel normal, and regardless of their gender or orientation, they could just relax and be themselves, and have fun. Those people are older now, but everyone still has a fun time at the movie.”
But what makes it such a dynamic experience, Gordon said, isn’t the movie itself, which he said wouldn’t be the same at all if someone got the DVD and watched it alone at home. What makes it so unique, he said, is the audience becomes a part of the movie.
“You go in there and have a great time,” he said. “People go in and just have a blast. It’s kind of like a way to blow off steam. I remember throwing toast in the air. I remember going in and saying, ‘This is really fun.’ It’s more of an experience than it is an actual film. It’s not the greatest film in the world, but it’s fun to go watch everyone who turns out to see it.”
And Gordon isn’t the least bit surprised that “Rocky Horror” always makes a comeback around Halloween.
“Look at what it portrays,” he said. “You’ve got them dancing, you’ve got the ghouls. It’s the best time to show it.”
To learn more about the Rocky Horror shows at CityWalk, call 407-354-3374. Tickets for “Rocky Horror Picture Show” are $10.

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