Last week, Orlando's cultural community lost its biggest, brightest booster with the passing of philanthropist Harriett Lake. Lake was a beloved legend in Central Florida, as much for her outrageously fabulous senses of fashion and humor as for the fortune in arts funding she donated. I was lucky enough to interview Lake in 2014 when she opened up her extensive closet for a charity sale, and she was still sharp and saucy despite declining health.
Harriett's name will forever live at the arts organizations she generously supported, from Orlando Shakes' Playfest and Mad Cow's smaller stage to the Doctor Phillips Center's luxurious pink ladies room. But Lake didn't only support established institutions like Orlando Ballet, which recently received $5 million from her for their new headquarters; she backed small, emerging companies and independent artists with equal passion.
As a journalist, I can't write seven- (or even four-) figure checks, but I can follow Harriett's example of patronage using the power of print. Therefore, in honor of Lake's legacy of looking out for the little artists who might someday become big, this week I'm lending my Live Active Cultures platform to the Impulse Project, a promising new theater company that mounted their first public production at the Venue last weekend.
In musical theater jargon, "ingenue" is often synonymous with a certain simpering, love-sick stereotype of femininity, so it's no wonder that the characters labeled as such should suffer from serious psychological issues. Enter Ingenues Anonymous, a satirical self-help group for the Great White Way's brokenhearted babes and an ideal premise for a "tragically romantic cabaret."
The "meeting" was hosted by South Pacific's Nelly Forbush (Aly Grauer), who wants to wash that man right out of her hair, but can't help being corny as Kansas in August over some guy. Grauer's dry wit set the show's sly tone as she arched an ironic eyebrow at every iconic cliché.
Highlights of her sisters' sufferings included Tamir Navarro's glass-shattering "I Feel Pretty" en español; Kristin Paradero's comical flip-chart presentation of Waitress's "When He Sees Me"; Adam Noecker, the cast's lone male member, doing amusingly awful Ann-Margret drag; and Danielle Irigoyen's delirious "Bride's Lament" from Drowsy Chaperone.
The performers – who were mostly newcomers to Orlando, or otherwise previously unknown to me – packed vocal talents that ranged from solid to superb, and I appreciated some of the less obvious song selections, like The Little Mermaid's Ariel (Tricia Wiles) not singing "Part of Your World." Better yet, director RJ Silva expanded the show beyond a basic "park and bark" cabaret into a satisfyingly fleshed-out hour, with lively staging, entertainingly amateurish props and an empowering ending: "Forget About the Boy" led by Grace Flaherty as Audrey from Little Shop of Horrors.
Silva started the Impulse Project with producer Ashley Ahr, whom he met while working behind the scenes at Walt Disney World. Both had theater backgrounds but weren't working as entertainers, and had the urge to make art.
"We were kind of like, we need to create theater for ourselves," recalls Silva.
"We initially started talking about it after Pulse happened, which is were we got the name from," adds Ahr. "We wanted to try to figure out what we could do to donate back ... because we were inspired by all the other things that were around us."
True to the troupe's name, Silva says this show "came out of an impulse" as he imagined which Broadway characters would attend an Anonymous meeting. He rented the Venue before he'd even written the script, and he cast performers he knew from working on previous productions at the Garden Theatre and the Orlando Fringe.
It was originally conceived as a simple cabaret, but Silva discovered in development that they could "take it a step further, and build a story around it," with the actors staying in character and reacting to each other from the sidelines throughout the show.
Now that their first production has closed, the Impulse Project has turned its efforts toward an Indiegogo campaign to fund their future plans.
"Our biggest goal is to have a cyclical producing cycle, where we start creating content, have shorter readings [and] grow that into a bigger thing," says Ahr. "Hopefully by the Fringe Festival we'll have a new original production to put out there." In the meantime, look for staged readings from Impulse at Dragonfly Studio in Ocoee this fall.