ORLANDO – As Toby Pruett sees it, entertainment need not be about breaking the bank.
“A lot of the world of entertainment has turned very corporate,” Pruett said.
That’s particularly true in a city like Orlando, he said, which bills itself as one of the great entertainment giants of the world, with theme parks that beckon visitors with thrill rides, live shows and plenty to do.
“A lot of people around here make their living in entertainment,” he said. “A lot of the entertainment here is amazing. But it’s high cost.”
A native of Fulton, Kentucky who now lives in Orlando, Pruett has been acting in acting and performing in Central Florida for 17 years. Now he’s taking his lengthy experience in theater and using it to address his concerns about the high cost and accessibility of live stage work.
Hence, the Random Magic Theatre, Inc.
The Orlando-based theater company that Pruett co-founded is producing its first stage play, “Art” by French playwright Yasmina Reza, with an opening performance on Thursday night at the Sleuth’s Mystery Dinner Shows theater on International Drive. “Art” runs for four performances. It’s the start of Pruett’s decade-old vision for a different kind of theatrical experience.
“If it’s a great story, I want to tell it,” he said. “Ever since we rose up and gave our first grunt, we were telling stories.”
Pruett has been doing just that for a long time. The Kentucky native was born to a family that owned and operated a radio station, so he became familiar with the idea of reaching out to the masses at an early age.
“Our family business was radio,” he said. “I was on radio from as far as I can remember.”
His travels took him to Nashville and New York before he settled in Orlando nearly two decades ago, and along the way Pruett has studied at The National Shakespeare Conservatory, the SAK Comedy Club, and the National Stage Combat Workshop. He’s been an actor at the Walt Disney Company and Sleuths, and an actor and stunt performer at Universal Studios and the Pirates Dinner Adventure dinner theater.
But what he really wanted to do was start his own theater company, one with a somewhat different vision. He got the idea back in the mid-1990s.
“Several years ago, I was working in New York, and I got to know guys like Greg and James Wolf and Greg Sherman,” he said. “They founded a company called Moonwork. I said, ‘If you guys need a hand, let me know,’ and they said sure.”
Throughout each theater season, Moonwork has been producing 15 evenings of original works since 1996. Pruett was impressed by their vision for totally involving the audience in each piece.
“It gave me the idea that I have a story to tell as well,” he said – yet one without the glitz that some theater companies insist on.
“I wanted to tell any kind of story that meant something, and to find a unique way to do it,” he said. “Not on Broadway, not in a commercial vein, but something that people have access to. It’s the simplest stories told in the most fantastic ways.”
His vision included presenting plays that called on the audience to use their imagination, rather than have special — and expensive — lighting and sound effects do it for them.
“With commercial theater, there’s a high cost to the production, a huge cost,” he said. “With Random Magic, there’s not going to be a mass budget. You don’t have to have a high budget. Theater can be created out of imagination and the text.”
It also includes some originality when it comes to the locations where the plays are shown to audiences. Although “Art” is being performed at a well established local theater, Pruett said future productions could be done anywhere.
“You didn’t have to have a theater with four walls and a door,” he said. “We can have it in a park and get permission to bring people in. You could use a tennis court and put the plays on there.”
So far, Random Magic is off to a good start.
“We’ve already sold out for opening night,” said Marian Mantovani, who directed “Art.” “In fact, it’s oversold.”
The show will be performed on Thursday, Friday and Saturday at 9 p.m., with doors opening at 8, and then a Sunday matinee at 2 p.m.
“We’re still accepting reservations for Friday, Saturday and the Sunday matinee,” Mantovani said. “There’s an open bar, and there will be an art exhibit. You don’t want to miss the art exhibit. We’ve got five or six really good artists coming with their work.”
There’s no official ticket price, but Random Magic Theatre is asking for donations, with a $10 suggestion.
Mantovani said it’s great that Pruett moved his theater beyond the concept stage and made it a reality.
“I feel like if you are working to tell a story in this world, you can’t sit back and talk about it, you have to do it,” she said. “We always talk about these ideas, but we never do them.”
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