The stage is empty.
But then, they start arriving: The woman who does information technology finance during the day, the guys who do pest control and lawn work.
Then, there’s the nanny, the grocery clerks, the college students and the teachers.
When they hit their marks, they shed those roles of daily life and become Seymour, Audrey, Orin Scrivello D.D.S., and other characters in “Little Shop of Horrors.”
As they immerse themselves, the actors hope they can transport the audience right along with them into the world they’ve created. At least that’s what cast members said during breaks at a recent rehearsal at Bridgeway Church on Wells Road in Wesley Chapel.
They’ve been rehearsing for weeks.
They’ll present the comedy rock horror musical at 8 p.m., on Oct. 24 and Oct. 25 at the Center for the Arts at Wesley Chapel, 30651 Wells Road.
The musical represents the first full-fledged production of Dreamhouse Theatre, a theater company based in Wesley Chapel that got its start about a year ago. The company’s first production was a musical review, but this one is much more ambitious.
Bryan D’Onofrio, the company’s artistic director, has a lot riding on it. As does his wife, Darci, the play’s executive director.
“Something we’ve always wanted to do was to have our own theater,” Bryan D’Onofrio said. “That’s been a dream of ours.”
The couple has talked about it for about two decades.
“Our pastor gave us a book called ‘The Dream Giver,’” he said. “It was about following your dreams and doing what you’re meant to do, what you’re born to do.”
So, the D’Onofrios decided: “Let’s give this a shot.”
They joined forces with Chris and Melissa VanSchaik, also of Wesley Chapel, to bring the vision of Dreamhouse Theatre to life.
They don’t have a permanent home yet, but they have lofty goals. They want to open a storefront initially and eventually build their own arts center, where they can put on about a half-dozen productions a year, and offer arts classes and summer drama camps. They’ve even talked over the possibility of a couple locations with J.D. Porter near Wiregrass Ranch, Melissa VanSchaik said.
“We just think there’s such a need for it in this area,” she said. “There’s no entertainment quite like live theater. There’s nothing like this in our area that’s consistently family friendly — passes that love for the arts onto the kids.”
Ticket prices at places like the Straz Center in Tampa are astronomical, she said.
“It’s very hard to take a family of five to a show where tickets are $100 apiece.” VanSchaik added.
The goal is to provide quality entertainment at an affordable price, said Chris VanSchaik, who got involved when Bryan D’Onofrio was drama pastor at Victorious Life Church. The VanSchaiks helped in the dramatic productions there, with Chris building sets and Melissa doing makeup.
“It was really a great avenue as a makeup artist to get to explore the world of special effects,” said Melissa, a makeup artist, a stylist and a part owner of Eclipse Salon and Spa in Lutz. “Having that creative outlet really fulfilled something within me that would have been dead otherwise.”
Besides being co-owners of Dreamhouse Theatre, the VanSchaiks are helping with makeup and stage construction, too.
Many of the actors have known the D’Onofrios for years. For some, acting has been part of their lives for years.
That’s true for Timothy Mendoza, 20, who is playing the role of Seymour Krelborn. Mendoza is so serious about acting he aspires to make it his life’s work.
Gabrielle Dion, 18, has been cast in the role of Audrey. She has never played a lead role, and said she’s excited and feels ready.
While some are seasoned performers, Phyllis Frey, 48, is making her theatrical debut. The Wesley Chapel resident is an experienced choral singer, but has never attempted acting.
“I find it very challenging,” Frey said, noting that it not only involves singing, but acting and moving, as well.
Jorge Diaz, who teaches acting classes and works as a pest control operator, is playing the role of Orin Scrivello D.D.S. The New Tampa 22-year-old believes he was born to act.
“Being on stage, it’s like I’m home,” he said. “When I’m on that stage, it’s like I’m in a different world.”
Janelle Ankrom, 18, enjoys being able to try on life through a new perspective.
“I get to be someone else,” the Land O’ Lakes resident said. “I get to experience what they would be feeling and something that I would probably not do in my real life.”
For Grace Spenceley, 18, acting almost is like an out-of-body experience. When she’s acting, the Land O’ Lakes resident is so attuned to her character that she almost forgets she’s there.
Lori Littlefield, who is handling many backstage duties, was involved in her first theatrical production when she was 3.
“I just love the theater,” said the Wesley Chapel woman who now works at Tampa Palms Elementary School. Littlefield will do anything — even sweep the floors — if it gets her into the theater.
Sylvia Roper, 48, who works with preschoolers all day long, has known the D’Onofrios for years.
“I’m enjoying performing,” she said.
Her acting skills come in handy at her day job, too. “I’m a lot of different characters all day long.”
Jose Sotero, 48, likes the feeling that comes when the actors are performing well. “It’s really awesome when you can fit in that part, when you see the audience get connected,” the Wesley Chapel pest control operator said.
Josiah Lindsay, who is playing eight different roles in the upcoming play, enjoys having an opportunity to learn. The Wesley Chapel 19-year-old told friends he’s “playing every non-main character in the show.”
“I’m literally every extra who has a line,” he said.
The D’Onofrios know they took a big risk when they decided to pursue their dream, but it’s a dream they believe in.
“We absolutely love the arts,” Darci said. “We want to bring them here. We know that’s a need.”
“We really believe in the power of the arts — in music and dance and theater,” Bryan added.
No matter the outcome of chasing his dream, Bryan D’Onofrio said there’s one thing he won’t have to regret.
“When I’m 75, I’m not going to say, ‘I wish I would have tried that,’” he said.
If you go
WHAT: ‘Little Shop of Horrors’
WHO: Dreamhouse Theatre
WHEN: Oct. 24 and Oct. 25, 8 p.m.
WHERE: Center for the Arts at Wesley Chapel, 30651 Wells Road.
COST: $20, available at the door
INFO: DreamhouseTheatre.com, or call (813) 997-7146.
Published October 22, 2014
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