It could be a classroom - maybe a music room.
People are gathered in groups of varying size throughout the space. There is an upright piano pushed against a wall and a small grand piano on the opposite side adjacent to a very modern-looking drum set. The men playing them are practicing or perhaps warming up.
Near the center of the room are two people who appear to be involved in an academic discussion about American historical figures. A few feet from them, others are excitedly talking about an upcoming trip to New York City, while others still are sitting around the perimeter intently studying their mobile devices. All are soon directed to the center of the room by the man sitting at the center of a bench at the back wall. He calls for action, and instantly the room is transformed into a stage as the group bursts into song – an energetic opening number.
This was the setting for a recent rehearsal for local playwright and director, Donald Rupe, along with the cast and crew of his original musical, “Flying Lessons.” It is set to be performed later this month at the New York Musical Festival, a prestigious event that showcases original works for musical theatre. Rupe explains that once an applicant has submitted his script and song recordings, an impressive group of panelists review the submissions and selects those to be performed at the festival.
“It’s double blind. They don’t get names. And then they narrow it down from there. I think it was 250 submissions this year, and they chose ten.” This year one of those 10 hails
from Osceola County!” Rupe said.
Originally written with teenagers in mind, “Flying Lessons” is the story of Isabella, who, along with her classmates, is tasked with writing a research paper about an inspiring famous historical figure. Her classmates seem to dive right in, choosing their subjects - some humorously more or less inspiring than others, but Isabella can’t decide who to write about until she is visited in a dream sequence by Amelia Earhart and Frederick Douglass. From them she learns about the qualities required to follow one’s dreams and goals to achieve greatness, and proceeds on a journey of self-discovery, all the while dealing with challenging circumstances at home.
Rupe credits school and the arts with helping him work through the challenges of his own childhood.
“I always loved school. I used school as my escape. I credit discovering the arts and starting in music when I was so young,” he said.
A graduate of Kissimmee’s own Gateway High School, he went on to New York University (NYU) where he played the alto saxophone and studied vocal music education and then switched to theatre. Education and the theatre have been his professional home ever since. He studied at NYU over the course of four summers, and taught theatre at his high school alma mater, Gateway, for seven years. His now full-time job, which he has held for about five years, is the director of Theatre at Central Florida Community Arts (cfcarts.com), which he said is the only community theatre in downtown Orlando. It has a 100-seat black box theater and produces a full season of shows. Additionally, he is an adjunct theater professor at Valencia College at both its Osceola and East campuses.
Though he prefers to express his emotions through theater, he appreciates the collaborative nature of the theatre and admittedly feels a bit emotional when he thinks about all the people who are helping him produce” Flying Lessons.” He is particularly grateful to Osceola Arts.
“I want to thank Osceola Arts. They have been so helpful in this process,”
He has a long history with the community arts organization. It is where he directed his first show and where he performed as an actor in “The Pirates of Penzance” at age 15. Before heading to New York City, Osceola Arts is hosting a local preview of the show.
“Donald came up through Osceola schools. This is an opportunity to support local talent - there are not a lot of submissions to competitions of this caliber from Osceola County,” said Bri Stefek, director of marketing and development for Osceola Arts. “It gives us a chance to show some of the bigger markets what we are made of here in Osceola County!”
Florida Preview Event – Tohopekaliga High Performing
• Date and Time: today at 7:30 p.m.
• Location: Tohopekaliga High School; 3675 Boggy Creek Road., Kissimmee
• Tickets on sale online at OsceolaArts.org or by calling the box office at 407-846-6257
• All tickets are General Admission: $15 for adults / $10 for students.