ORLANDO, Fla. – An Orlando theater company that serves children and adults with autism is bringing back live theater during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Laura Hernandez is preparing to return to the stage. She’s in the middle of rehearsals as she gets ready to perform as Belle in Disney’s “Beauty and the Beast, Jr.”
“I love it because I like to sing the song. My favorite song is ‘Belle’s Song’ and ‘Home,’” Hernandez said.
The 26-year-old is an actor with Running Man Theatre Company, which is part of OCA. OCA stands for “Opportunity. Community. Ability.”
It is a nonprofit organization in Orlando that serves children and adults with autism and other disabilities.
Silvia Haas is the co-founder and executive director of the organization.
“It doesn’t matter who enters our door, we want those individuals to have those three things: An opportunity in our community that focuses on ability,” Haas said. “That’s what OCA does day in and day out.”
Haas said OCA offers a variety of therapeutic-based programs. She said they have served more than 400 families since opening in 2009.
Haas said theater gives actors a platform to showcase their talents and shine while learning life skills.
“We’ve really seen a tremendous growth in our actors’ self-esteem, in our actors’ ability to make eye contact with one another,” Haas said.
The COVID-19 pandemic forced the company to exit stage left. The actors rehearsed virtually and recorded last year’s three performances.
Now the company is ready for its grand entrance, bringing live theater back safely by rehearsing outdoors while social distancing and wearing masks.
Hernandez said she is excited to perform in person again during the Frontyard Festival at the Dr. Phillips Center next month.
“I love acting because it’s so much fun,” Hernandez said.
Haas adds this is more than just a musical for the actors and their families.
“To have those normal experiences for a family that has a child with a disability is priceless. That can never be replaced,” Haas said. “That memory will stay with those families forever because they were accepted for who they are and they were understood and that’s what OCA stands for.”
Tickets for the Running Man Theatre Company’s performance of Disney’s “Beauty and the Beast, Jr.” will go on sale soon. The performance is Monday, May 3 at 7 p.m.
Click here for more information about OCA.