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Friends, local church team up to help struggling performers

'The Social Distant Showcase' helps local performers make ends meet

It’s been now five months since the performing arts and live entertainment industry halted productions across Orlando, the City Beautiful. It was a hard blow to an industry that employs thousands of singers, dancers and technicians and who are the essence of what makes Orlando a popular tourist destination.

A group of friends involved in the theater industry and St. Luke’s United Methodist Church are launching the Greater Orlando Performing Arts Relief initiative, or GOPAR.

“Believe it or not we know people right now who are still waiting to get their unemployment check having first applied four months ago,” Michael Wanzie, creative director of Wanzie Presents, said. “Initially, we did the showcase specifically to address the need that’s been caused by COVID-19 but now it’s grown into a desire on the part of a larger group to have an ongoing permanent charitable organization.”

Wanzie said their weekly production of “The Social Distant Showcase” raised $19,000 which were distributed to 187 performers struggling to make ends meet and after a few weeks, he realized it would be a task too big for him and friends Rich Ron and Kenny Howard to manage. So, they partnered with St. Lukes United Methodist church.

“Luke’s being an arts church strategically where we’re located between, you know, Universal Disney and being so close to the I-4 corridor,” Steve Mackinnon, director of theater and contemporary worship St. Luke’s United Methodist Church, said. “We have a lot of artists in our church and we have a theater program and it just seemed like a natural fit with our mission department and our arts program here to kind of bridge that gap.”

Wanzie said artists and musicians in Orlando typically work with several companies putting them at a disadvantage when it comes to benefits.

"A lot of people who work in the performing arts work in a gig related industry, so they work for several different companies none of which give them benefits," Wanzie said. "So, there's no safety net when something like a pandemic happens."

Wanzie said GOPAR's mission is to provide financial assistance and resources to help with rent and utility payments--even with healthcare.

“These artists are part of our family and they are part of the quilt of what Orlando is,” Mackinnon said. “When you serve folks you end taking away more than the folks you’re actually serving, you know, it feels so much better to help out when you can and I think we get a lot from that. It makes you feel like you’re part of a greater purpose.”

"They've been giving back to us for so many years and Orlando is very special in its theater community," Kenny Howard, artistic director Florida Theatricals Association said. "These people have been singing and dancing and performing and creating for decades in this town and we would just greatly appreciate any help you could give."

On Sept. 4th starting at 8 p.m., GOPAR will officially launch with a live variety telethon show through their Facebook page.

To make a donation to GOPAR visit http://www.st.lukes.org/gopar/


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