MTI Presents The Courage in Theatre Award to Orchard Cove

MTI Presents The Courage in Theatre Award to Orchard Cove

MTI has awarded its fourth Courage in Theatre Award to the residents and staff at Orchard Cove, a senior living retirement community in Canton, Mass., for safely conducting a pilot workshop of Guys and Dolls SR. during the pandemic.

Guys and Dolls SR. is part of MTI's Broadway Senior® collection of musicals, which adapts popular Broadway musicals specifically for older adults.

As the pandemic raged on, it became apparent to Orchard Cove that a fully-realized production of Guys and Dolls SR. would have to be put on hold. But while it was still safe and possible, the rehearsals continued because of the good it was doing for all the participants.

In the spring of 2020, the residents and staff of Orchard Cove had just begun auditions for a pilot production of Guys and Dolls SR. when the COVID-19 pandemic hit. Under the direction of Orchard Cove Choral Director Cici Hunt and local performer/choreographer Aimee Doherty, the group forged ahead in adverse conditions. Working with Orchard Cove's Resident Program Director Susan Tovsky and Executive Director Aline Russotto to create a safe environment for rehearsals, strict health and safety protocols were employed and state health and safety guidelines were followed. Rehearsals were conducted online and when weather and safety permitted, the singing and dancing continued outdoors with smaller, socially-distanced, and masked groups using nearly every part of the Orchard Cove campus.

(The residents and staff of Orchard Cove receive the Courage in Theatre Award from Music Theatre International.)

This was no easy feat considering that more than 35 Orchard Cove residents from Independent and Assisted Living-with an average age of 87-were involved in the workshop. The oldest performer (a Hot Box dancer, no less) was 101! The cast and production team simply would not be deterred.

"Theatre is a transformative art and we know from experience the positive effects the theatrical process has on people - young and old alike. The ongoing development of the Broadway Senior program has revealed, anecdotally, that seniors who participate in a community musical are more engaged and active, and less reliant on medication, and embrace the social experience. As we have learned over decades with Broadway Junior™, the process of preparing is as important as the performances to the cast of performers. When I heard and saw the hard work and perseverance taking place at Orchard Cove in the face of unprecedented health challenges, I knew it was important to highlight their fortitude, resilience and high spirits going through a scary obstacle course to prepare. I knew Orchard Cove was singularly appropriate for the Courage in Theatre Award," said Freddie Gershon, MTI's Co-chairman and CEO.

MTI's Courage in Theatre Award is awarded to an organization that uses the power of the arts to affect positive change in its community in the face of adversity. The Award is not given annually; instead, it is presented on an ad-hoc basis to arts organizations who confront challenges that threaten their ability to explore or express their artistic vision.

Choral Director Cici Hunt found the experience not only beneficial to the residents, but to herself personally. "Witnessing the willingness of all these people, some at 100 years old, to 'schlep' and walk all this way for a rehearsal, it's magic," she stated. "You see the years melt away as the residents were not thinking about what they can't do. They were thinking about what they CAN do. These people got me through Covid. I got out of my head and into my heart."

"Everyone had a moment to shine and the confidence and joy I saw on the residents' faces was priceless," added Susan Tovsky, Resident Program Manager.

Guys and Dolls SR. is a condensed version of the iconic, Tony award-winning musical Guys and Dolls. Over the past two years, dozens of communities serving senior citizens of all ability levels have helped MTI pilot a slate of classic musicals from Fiddler on the Roof SR. to Into the Woods SR. The Broadway Senior materials are designed to eliminate any barriers to producing a show and include accompaniment tracks, notes on staging, choreography videos and more.

"It was incredibly rewarding. They understood the cadence and tempo of Guys and Dolls which made my job a lot easier. They jumped right in, unafraid. As we age, we care less about what others are thinking. With so many distractions going on in the outside world, this was our safe space," stated Choreographer Aimee Doherty.

"We are absolutely going to continue with this process," said Orchard Cove Executive Director Aline Russotto. "We know how much this experience means to everyone at Orchard Cove and we can't wait to eventually let our residents shine, and entertain their neighbors, through a live performance."

Drew Cohen, MTI President and CEO, said, "The residents and staff of Orchard Cove are truly inspiring. In theatre, we know that a performance is just one part of a long and meaningful process that requires everyone's commitment and ability to give of themselves. We're grateful that Orchard Cove embraced this process and understood the value of arts programming in senior communities. We hope others will look to Orchard Cove and see what is possible to do safely even under the most challenging circumstances."

Previous winners of the Courage in Theatre Award include the students and teachers of Green Valley High School in Las Vegas, Nevada for moving forward with their 2010 production of Rent School Edition, despite resistance from community members who objected to issues of sexuality and drug use in the piece. In 2012, the Award was presented to the special needs students of New York City's The Spectrum School, P94M for writing and producing an original musical A Powerful Day, despite a lack of an official arts program in the school. And in 2017 the award was bestowed upon Cherry Hill High School East for their production of Ragtime and using the content and language in the show to open up a dialogue around race in the community.