ORLANDO – Theater director and professor John DiDonna first got the notice about the John Goring Award by email, as he was preparing to let others in the Central Florida theater community know who this year’s fortunate recipient was. The announcement surprised him.
This awards ceremony is a part of the 2nd Annual John Goring Memorial One-Act Festival, which takes place at the John and Rita Lowndes Shakespeare Center in Studio B, with performances starting on Oct. 20 and running through Oct. 30. That closing date is when the award – given to an individual or organization dedicated to the theater arts in Central Florida, with an emphasis on original works — will be presented at the conclusion of that day’s performance.
“I found out twice,” DiDonna said. “I got an email asking me what I was doing that day, and when he told me why and I said ‘Oh, wow, thank you.’ “
In an email announcing both the One-Act Festival and the award, Charles Dent, director of the Playwrights Round Table in Orlando — the sponsors of the festival — wrote that DiDonna had been selected at this year’s recipient of the award, based on his two decades of work in local theater as a director, actor, playwright and college instructor.
“John has been a dynamic force for years in the Orlando-Sanford-all over Central Florida theatrical community, providing both audiences and his peers with numerous great and consistent productions,” Dent noted. “Most importantly, a good deal of his work has often involved the development and production of original theatrical works with a great many of the region’s best writers, musicians and dance troupes. It is with great pride and gratitude to John for all he has accomplished here in our community that we award him with this honor. Please join us Sunday, Oct. 30.”
DiDonna said he was caught off guard at first when he learned he’d been chosen for the award, but added that he felt privileged to have been chosen based on his original works, which have included “Bathory” and the new “Phantasmagoria II,” which opens on Friday at 8:30 p.m. at the Mandell Theater at the Lowndes Shakespeare Theatre.
“It’s a very nice honor,” DiDonna said. “John Goring was a good man. I knew John Goring. I was pleased to see what the reasons were for giving me this award, my original works. It is nice. I appreciate it. It’s a lovely thing.”
DiDonna, a native of Brooklyn, N.Y., came to Orlando 21 years ago, and has been involved in the local theater world ever since.
“Twenty-one years — that’s a long time,” he said. “It’s the longest I’ve been in any one place at a time.”
One of the reasons he stayed, DiDonna said, is that Central Florida’s theater community has only gotten larger and more expansive in the past two decades – to the point where audiences have a huge selection of options when they seek out live performances.
“I think it’s vibrant, but exhausting,” he said of the local theater community. “I think there’s just so much theater right now, we’re in overload sometimes. There are nine shows opening this week alone. It’s great for the consumer.”
This doesn’t surprise him, though. DiDonna, who teaches theater at Rollins College and Seminole Community College and is a contributor to Freeline Media through his In-Site column, said the theme parks like Walt Disney World and Universal Studios have helped make Central Florida a magnet for acting talent because of all the live shows performed here daily.
“It’s a hub for live theater,” he said. “We have so many entertainers here. Disney and Universal bring so many performers down here.”
Playwrights’ Round Table hosts an annual tribute to its former president and guiding light, playwright John Goring. This year’s festival includes a trio of plays: “Forgiveness” by Stephen J. Miller, “Kaddish for the Last Survivor” adapted by David Strauss from the original short story by Michael Burstein, and “The Purse Thief” by Don Gordon. All three plays will be presented nightly during the run of the show.
It concludes with the recognition given to DiDonna, which he said would be humbling.
“I’m going to feel grateful,” he said. “I’m just going to hope to be there with people who have seen me in a show. We’re all part of that community. It’s going to be emotional.”
Tickets are $15 for general admission and $12 for PRT members, seniors ages 65 and older, students and members of the military. Tickets are cash sale only. For reservations, call 407-761-2683.
To book tickets for “Phantasmagoria II,” call 407-328-9005 or log on to www.redchairproject.com.
Contact us at FreelineOrlando@Gmail.com.