Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Spotlight: Help us celebrate arts and education on #GivingTuesday

There’s a day for just about everything now: giving thanks on Thursday, fighting the crowds for Black Friday deals, shopping local on Small Business Saturday and surfing for savings on Cyber Monday – November has become a very busy month. 

But there’s one last day we’d like you to know about – #GivingTuesday. In the midst of the hustle and bustle of the holidays, #GivingTuesday reminds us all to take a moment to celebrate generosity.

The Orpheum is a proud member of the Memphis nonprofit community, and over the past two years, the theatre has donated $62,000 in tickets and merchandise to 172 local nonprofit auctions. These contributions help our neighbors raise support for their own organizations, and help as many Mid-Southerners as possible enjoy our Broadway shows, concerts, Student Matinee Series, and other special events.

In just the last month, almost 15,000 students came to the theatre for Schoolhouse Rock Live! and Moses(es), and we’re now only about eight months away from the opening of our much-anticipated Orpheum Centre for Performing Arts & Education. When you drive down Main Street, we hope you enjoy watching it grow as much as we do.

Without you, we wouldn’t be able to bring as much quality education and entertainment to the Mid-South. As you make your holiday shopping lists and get ready to close out the year, consider giving a gift to the entire community with a donation to help us offer more opportunities and preserve our 86-year-old theatre.

Here’s how you can support us:
  • Join the Member Circle or Club Level with an individual annual donation. You’ll not only have our gratitude, but you’ll enjoy all the perks of membership, including access to special events and recognition in Orpheum publications.
  • Make a contribution to the Capital Campaign. Your support is crucial to completing construction of the Centre for Performing Arts & Education. Every donation makes a difference as we prepare to open a state-of-the-art facility for classes, performances and community events.
  • Honor a loved one by making a donation in their name or purchasing a brick at the Centre’s plaza entry. No matter which option you choose, you’ll give a thoughtful and unique gift, with theatre perks or lifelong memories.

All donations made to the Orpheum are tax-deductible, and here’s how your giving helps:
  • Education and Community Programs: Donations to these programs provide support to 19 education programs impacting the lives of over 70,000 students and families annually. The theatre is committed to offering educational opportunities that use theatre to develop basic learning skills, discipline, teamwork, and self esteem, and to cultivate the whole person by developing intuition, reasoning, and creativity.
  • Entertainment Programming: By donating to the entertainment programming, you are guaranteeing better concerts, diverse Broadway shows, and spectacular special events. About 275,000 guests enjoy the theatre each year, from 327 zip codes throughout the U.S. as well as 15 countries.
  • Preservation of the Theatre: The gilded moldings, crystal chandeliers, and the everyday wear and tear on the theatre require constant maintenance. Please help us preserve the historic Orpheum for future generations.
  • The Future: Between our landmark theatre and the new 39,000-square-foot New Centre, the Orpheum has an amazing chance to bring more entertainment, education and community events to the Mid-South, and your donations guarantee that our celebrated and innovative initiatives continue for years to come.

No matter how you decide to give this year, we want you to know that your donation is greatly appreciated and that any gift, big or small, helps us to fully realize the Orpheum’s valuable mission.  Together, we can make this year’s #GivingTuesday the most impactful yet!

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Spotlight: Rain Can't Keep Our Racers' Spirits Down

There was an an abundance of creativity with the costume
contest. Photo by Frank Chin

Call it a miracle on Main and Beale, but on the dreary Sunday of our first 5K race, the skies cleared and gave our runners just enough time to complete a dry 3.1 miles in downtown Memphis.

Despite the gloom, 183 devoted racers came out for the inaugural Break-A-Leg 5K on November 23, the Orpheum’s first ever race. While the weather hindered some of the 349 registered participants from making it down to the theatre, we are thrilled so many people enjoyed the race and block party afterword. 

Kyle Grady crosses the finish line.
Photo by Frank Chin

Congratulations to Kyle Grady, who finished first overall with a time of 19:36.6, and second and third place Overall Male winners Robert Wilson and Preston Burks. Whitney Faust took the prize for Overall Female with a time of 23:49.8, followed by Rachel Capshaw and Kristin Mattei in second and third place, respectively. Click here to see a full list of winners. 

A huge thank you goes to out to Start2Finish Event Management for helping us coordinate such a terrific race. 

Though the block party had to be moved inside when the rain started again after the race, there was plenty of fun to be had in the lobby of the theatre. We loved the creativity in people’s costumes: leg lamps, elves, pink bunny pajamas, and more tinsel, funny hats and zany socks than you can probably imagine. 

Photo by Frank Chin
Another big thanks to Hard Rock Café for providing excellent food for our hungry runners and for having singer/guitarist Chris Johnson entertain our guests.

The proceeds from the 5K will benefit our education and community programs. Thanks for helping us raise awareness and for such an incredible inaugural 5K. We’re already planning next year’s race, so stay tuned for a new date and theme.

Check out photos from the race and the block party online. See one of you? Download it or tag yourself!

Monday, November 24, 2014

Spotlight: One-Man Show Goes From Orpheum to Off-Broadway

What began as a drive down Main Street turned into a journey to New York for Phil Darius Wallace.

As a writer, producer, director and actor, Darius has been a longtime friend of the Orpheum, working with us on summer camps, workshops and past programs with Memphis City Schools. In 2012 he was hoping to restage his one-man show about civil rights pioneer Frederick Douglass when a chance drive past the theatre prompted him to call Alice Roberts, our Vice President of Community and Education.

“What we both found was that my show was a perfect fit for the Orpheum at that time,” Darius says. “I was thrilled. The whole theater showed me amazing respect, service and love. They really made me feel like family. I pinched myself many times to see if I was dreaming.”

Darius frequently called on Alice for advice as he had crafted a 60-minute children’s show about the famed orator for Voices of the South, and together Alice and Darius worked to turn the production into 90-minute show for audiences age pre-teen and up. Darius says he and the Orpheum education staff made several test runs until finding the right version to present publicly.

Self-Made Man: TheFrederick Douglass Story emerged from their work, in which Darius portrays 14 characters who influenced Douglass’ life and encouraged the former slave to inspire President Abraham Lincoln and countless others to fight for the end of slavery and support equality for all people. The production includes music, dancing, singing, monologues and poetry.

The show’s most powerful message is how education completely transformed Douglass’ life.  To enhance this lesson for local students, the theatre produced a show-specific study guide, handled all of the press and invited fourth-graders through high school seniors to experience it. Two former students in the education program, Shawna Gardner and Travis Blackwell, also helped to make the show a success by getting involved with the rehearsal process and stage management.

The resulting production was so popular with Orpheum audiences that two additional performances were added.  In the end, 5,655 students and patrons saw the production during its four-performance run Nov. 18-21, 2013.

Phil Darius Wallace
One of those audience members was Melania Levitsky, founder of Nikita Productions and the Associate Artistic Director for Walking the dog Theater, who called Darius two months later and asked to reproduce the show at the ArcLight Theatre in New York City. After some rewriting, a new budget and about 30 hours of weekly rehearsal, Self-Made Man opened its off-Broadway run on November 18, 2014 – exactly one year after performances started at the Orpheum.

The script is the most distinct change between the Orpheum show and what audiences will see in New York. Darius says the scene order was tweaked and the dialogue was made more communal and conversational to better fit the smaller ArcLight.

 “It is a 99-seat theater and gives me a chance to play with the audience through improv as some of the characters, and share very intimate moments as Douglass,” Darius says.

Self-Made Man: The Frederick Douglass Story plays through December 14, 2014 at the ArchLight Theatre. Get more information about the show, and our talented friend Darius, online at

“I am so thankful to Alice and the Orpheum,” Darius says. “I am also thankful to Melania and Nikita Productions for believing in me, challenging me and helping me to be a better actor!”

Friday, November 21, 2014

Spotlight: Moses(es) Cast Teaches Master Classes to Local Students

Dwayne Brown of Fist and Heel Performance Group teaches an
eager group of middle school students at Collage dance Collective.
Reggie Wilson is an internationally acclaimed choreographer, performer and artistic director, and some lucky students in the Mid-South learned from him and his Fist and Heel Performance Group last week.

The Orpheum hosted Fist and Heel’s Moses(es), a unique dance and performance art production exploring our relationship with leadership and the effects of migration on beliefs and customs. Student audiences have enjoyed the show November 19-21, and the cast also kept themselves busy teaching dance classes at local schools.

The entire company of University of Memphis dance students was taught November 17 by Reggie Wilson himself, along with five members of Fist and Heel. The workshop began with a modern technique warm-up, and each Fist and Heel company member taught small groups of dancers a bit of choreography from Moses(es).

Holly Lau, the chair of the University of Memphis’ Department of Theatre & Dance, says her students “all felt engaged and enlightened by the experience.”  

Reggie Wilson
“Reggie Wilson is a gifted and thoughtful teacher who led the class through movement experiences that progressed from the simple to more complex,” she says. “Along the way, he helped students identify fundamental movement concepts which enhanced both performance and comprehension.” 

A second class took place November 18 at Overton High School, where dancers Anna Schon and Paul Hamilton spent two hours teaching warm-ups, floor exercises and Moses(es) steps to beginner and intermediate dance students. At the third and fourth classes on November 18 and 19, company members Dwayne Brown, Raja Kelly and Yeman Brown taught the younger dances at Collage dance Collective many of those same skills.

The generosity of Fist and Heel allowed us to share a one-of-a-kind experience with performers in our community, and nearly 2,000 students were also able to see these performers live on stage in Moses(es) as part of the Orpheum's Student Matinee Series.

Grounded in Zora Neale Hurston’s novel and Reggie Wilson’s travels to Israel, Egypt, Turkey and Mali, the work looks at diasporic movement out of Africa. The energetic fusion of modern and African dance is perfectly married to music by Louis Armstrong, The Klezmatics, Ngqoko Women's Ensemble, MaZarhar, Bi Kidude, Southern Sons, The Blind Boys of Alabama, and featuring songs including "Wade In the Water" and "Eli, Eli” sung live by the performers.

For more information on Reggie Wilson and Fist and Heel Performance Group, visit

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Broadway Fun: How Many 'Christmas Story' References Can You Find In This Blog?

A Christmas Story, the Musical is almost here!  From leg lamps to pink bunny pajamas, this show is the rip-roaring, side-splitting comedy you know and love mixed in with festive, fun Broadway show tunes that will stick in your head for days.  In fact the original Ralphie, Peter Billingsley, is a producer of the Broadway show, and the musical was even nominated for a major award - the coveted Tony for Best Musical.

In the spirit of the show we want to ask you, what is your holiday wish?  And more importantly, what lengths would you go to to ensure the wish comes true? 

It doesn't have to be a Red Ryder BB Gun, it can be anything.  If you're gearing up for semester tests and college finals, you might be asking Santa for an early A+++++++ so you can enjoy the holidays without having to worry about the inevitable report card that's on its way.  We know more than one kid out there who's asking for a puppy, whether it be a Dalmatian, a Golden Retriever, or a Hound.  Just remember, if you ask for something fra-GEE-leh, make sure that Santa knows to pack it well.  Otherwise, you'll be mourning your present with a special performance of "Taps" before you even have a chance to enjoy it.

So now that you've got your wish in mind... how are you going to get it?  You could use the furnace pipes to whisper subliminal messages to your parents.  You could try a last-ditch bribe by leaving Santa fudge and Ovaltine instead of milk and cookies.  If all else fails, skip the subtlety - simply triple dog dare your little brother to walk up to your parents and tell them exactly what you want and how badly you want it.

Whatever you do, try to stay calm as the stress of enacting your plan starts to take its toll.  Don't shoot your eye out or sabotage the turkey or lick a frozen flagpole as a means to get your way - these are all very bad ideas.  A rousing rendition of "Deck the Halls" is always helpful in rejuvenating the yuletide spirit.  

Of course, its nice to remember that the holidays aren't always about presents (hard to believe, we know).  Your crazy uncle who eats like a little piggy is always good for a laugh.  Then there's that moment when your old man opens the macaroni masterpiece you made just for him, turns to you with those yellow eyes and says, "Thanks a lot!"  Or when you sit down to a feast of fresh-out-of-the-oven roast duck... smiling up at you. 

You know, Little Orphan Annie didn't have much, but she was always positive, and that's a pretty good lesson to keep in mind.  So whether or not you get that perfect gift, we hope your Christmas story is so good that you'll exclaim, "I can't put my arms down - I'm too excited about Christmas!"

A Christmas Story, The Musical plays at The Orpheum Theatre November 25 - 30th. 

Tickets are available at the Orpheum Box Office (901.529.3000), the official Orpheum website (, and all official Ticketmaster outlets (

Thursday, November 13, 2014

President's Page: A Lesson in Broadway Investing

An investment in a Broadway show is a lot like owning a horse or a boat: it seldom pays off and it costs a fortune to keep up with.  Why then invest in a Broadway play?  For the same reason we buy that boat or invest in a thoroughbred colt – because we love it.

The facts are pretty well known to investors like me who for some reason invest our hard-earned post-tax money into a Broadway musical, which incidentally costs a total average of $14 to $17 million to produce.  A play will cost far less because you typically do not have an orchestra, as large of a cast, or the royalties that need to be paid to the composers.   

Here are the hard facts:
  1. Attendance on Broadway for 2013 – 2014 was 12 million theatregoers.
  2. The total gross for New York’s “Great White Way” for the same period of time was $1.27  billion... BILLION.
  3. The proportion of shows that break even, not necessarily make a profit, but just break even is 1 in 5 or just 20%.  But if you luck out and get in on a show like THE BOOK of MORMON you could recoup and start getting the profit checks after as few as 9 months.  Then, the checks keep coming in for years.  
  4. The biggest loss ever recorded was for the $75 million SPIDER-MAN which lost it ALL!!!  Personally, I think the number was much higher, but the producers decided to tell a little white lie to cushion the blow.
  5. The hottest ticket in New York right now is for THE BOOK of MORMON at as much as $477 a ticket.
So if you have a comfortable amount in the piggy bank – why not?  Or if you'd rather increase your odds of return, you could go out in your backyard with a fistful of coins, throw them up in the air and what stays up there is your profit.  

Pat Halloran
Orpheum President and CEO