IllumiNation Wants Conversation and Community



When folks come out to see Evita at Asolo Repertory Theatre this evening, they’ll get more than Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice’s timeless Emmy Award-winning tale, and more than choreography and direction from Broadway’s Josh Rhodes, and passionate performances from Ana Isabele (Eva) and Justin Gregory Lopez (Che). They’ll also get tango lessons.

Kicking off this season’s IllumiNation Series, ticketholders for tonight’s show begin the evening an hour early, arriving at the theater for some mingling, some light Argentinean bites and a bit of tango to get into the spirit of things. And following the performance, over a couple drinks, the group reassembles for some food for thought with a panel discussion or community conversation. Five plays this season, including Evita, will be part of the IllumiNation series, including Morning After Grace, Roe, Gloria and Ragtime, and feature their own pre- and post-show engagements, one of which will always be a community discussion of some sort.

“Those are the plays that provided us with the most opportunity to discuss scenes that are social, political, cultural or racial—things that are meaningful and important to the Sarasota community,” says Asolo Rep Community Engagement Specialist Ria Cooper. And while many theaters, including Asolo Rep, host talkbacks with the actors and discussions with directors, the goal of the IllumiNation Series is to expand the community, and hence the discussion, beyond the regular theater-going crowd. Leading the discussion tonight, for example, is not a member of Asolo Repertory Theatre, but Maria Schaedler-Luera, managing director of Atomica Arts and Program Manager for Arts Integration with Any Given Child Sarasota. “It’s in our best interest to make welcome the theater to folks who’ve never come to the Asolo or felt like the Asolo was their home,” says Cooper. “The point is to connect the audience with each other, and to explore the connections that already exist.”

Tonight’s show is already sold out, meaning tango lessons are sold out too. But, in the above spirit, post-show discussions are open to all who care to take part. And there remain four other opportunities to have the full IllumiNation experience, with any of the aforementioned productions this season. Ticket packages are also available for those wanting to be sure they don’t miss a single part of the series or the community coming together. Because that’s what it’s all about.

Cooper remembers a similar program from two years prior, when the theater partnered with the Islamic Society of Sarasota and Bradenton, Temple Beth Sholom, St. Wilfred Episcopal Church and more for an interfaith discussion about faith and the American Dream. From that conversation, real world change emerged, with the local mosque connecting with local outreach programs to offer family housing, which continues today. “That’s my shining star story,” she says, “but there are lots of other connections like that.”

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