It’s not easy launching a new theater troupe in the middle of a pandemic, but the Wildfire Players are committed to do it right and for the right reasons
With the Wildfire Players, Gabriel Garcia intends to give a theatrical voice to disenfranchised people whose stories too often go untold.
Gabriel and his friends Alyssa Mason and Alexander “Alex” Iacuzzo recently joined forces to launch the community theater troupe, which is in residence at Penguin Point Productions in the Oviedo Mall.
“Wildfire Players is a platform for people who feel that they normally would not be heard, including people of color and the LGBTQ community,” says Gabriel, a freelance theater educator. “We’re flipping things on their heads and making people think.”
Gabriel, Alex, and Alyssa have all directed shows for another performing group in residence at Penguin Point – The Young Company. That troupe’s mission is to offer high-school students the opportunity to be in the cast and crew of classic, family-friendly plays.
For the Wildfire Players, themselves, the to-do list of shows is decidedly more edgy. James Brendlinger, owner of Penguin Point, says the talented trio approached him with a list of shows they wanted to direct. Although James describes their picks as terrific, he felt the shows didn’t jibe with The Young Company’s family-oriented mission. So, the solution was to create the new group with Alex, Alyssa, and Gabriel serving as co-creative directors.
“The Young Company will continue to move forward as the educational theater program at Penguin Point, while Wildfire Players can explore more mature material,” James says.
Wildfire Players debuted in July with Assassins, a controversial musical about the nine individuals who killed (or attempted to kill) presidents of the United States. Gabriel and Alex co-directed and starred in the show. Gabriel played John Wilkes Booth, President Abraham Lincoln’s assassin, and Alex portrayed Charles Guiteau, who killed President James A. Garfield.
The musical, with music and lyrics by composer Stephen Sondheim, addresses weighty topics such as disillusionment with the government and the notion of the American Dream, Gabriel says.
“I thought it was really timely to explore that concept, given the political firestorm we’re living through now,” he adds.
Wildfire Players followed Assassins with the play Dog Sees God: Confessions of a Teenage Blockhead, which Alyssa directed. The “unauthorized parody,” as the play is described, reimagines the Peanuts comic strip gang as angst-ridden teens struggling with issues such as sexual identity, drug use, and eating disorders.
This fall, Wildfire will return to Sondheim territory with the musical Into the Woods, which Gabriel will direct. Performances are scheduled for October 2, 3, and 4.
“Into the Woods is subverting fairy tales and the idea of happily ever after and what happens when you finally do get your wish,” Gabriel says. “Subversion seems to be kind of a Wildfire thing.”
In addition to re-envisioning masterworks through approaches such as non-traditional casting, the up-and-coming theater troupe plans to present original content, as well. Among the new works on the horizon will be a ballet choreographed by Gabriel, who is also a dancer with the Flamenco del Sol Dance Company in Oviedo.
Launching a new theater group during the COVID-19 crisis has been especially challenging. Yet through it all, Wildfire Players and Penguin Point Productions have made the safety of everyone involved the top priority.
For example, instead of presenting Assassins in Penguin Point’s blackbox theater, Wildfire staged the show in the mall’s much larger community room – a former Gap clothing store. The extra space allowed for social distancing for the audience, with more spacing between rows of seats. Other safety precautions have included paperless ticketing, a reduced number of tickets sold per performance, masks, and temperature checks. In addition, the Penguin Point facility is sanitized twice daily with a peroxide hazer.
“It’s been a lot of hard work with the way the world is right now to keep live theater going, but here at Wildfire, we feel that it’s very important,” Gabriel says. “As artists and directors, it is really important to us to make our voices heard and to make the voices of people around us heard.”
For details about the troupe, visit Facebook.com/WildfirePlayers. To learn more about Penguin Point, visit PenguinPointProductions.com
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