Timeless Magic: How The Secret Garden Transformed One Theatre Community
"The Secret Garden is a story of love and loss, of redemption and healing. More to the point: it’s a story of magical healing. And Theatre Raleigh’s production of this musical captures every ounce of that magic, creating a moving, uplifting experience that is not to be missed.”
Reviewers Pamela Vesper and Kurt Benrud of our regional arts review, Triangle Arts and Entertainment, wrote these words after watching Theatre Raleigh’s production of The Secret Garden. What more could a community need than a magical, moving and uplifting experience?
Presenting The Secret Garden would take a bit of magic for us to produce; we are a small, non-profit theatre company that, at the time of production, had only one full-time staff member and four part-timers striving toward creating a full year of programming for our community. As one of the only professional theatre companies in our area, we find it imperative to make big things happen and aim for the stratosphere when it comes to our productions. We were thrilled to add The Secret Garden to our season - it is such a beautiful show with an exceptional message that everyone can enjoy together.
Producing such a beloved classic gave our theatre so many opportunities that would not have otherwise been possible. We typically present our season in a 133 seat black box theatre; when we thought about producing TSG, we knew it had to be in a larger venue - we wanted to bring in as many people as possible to see this gorgeous show and give it the large staging it deserves. Because we knew the title would attract so many people, we were able to move from our little black box home to a 604 seat opera theatre!
Theatre Raleigh views partnerships as the backbone of our community, and with The Secret Garden, we knew we would be able to do something special for one of our community partners. Haven House Services is a vital organization in our region that provides a lifeline to stability and security for youth who find themselves homeless, have run away or are experiencing crisis (remind you of Mary Lennox? We thought so!). The Secret Garden was such a golden opportunity for our little theatre to contribute to an important cause in a big way. With the draw of the show's title, we were able to create a special “Haven House” ticket that community members could purchase in support of the organization. Our show may have run less than a week, but we were able to raise over $1,500 for this wonderful organization with our production of The Secret Garden.
We knew The Secret Garden would be the penultimate production in our season. Because of its appeal, in addition to our Haven House fundraiser, Theatre Raleigh was able to host a beautiful outdoor benefit dinner before one of our Secret Garden showings. Not only did that provide an opportunity for our staff, our patrons, our board and our community to come together and break bread, but the financial impact was major for a small theatre company. The money we raised that night helped us launch our next season, and we are proud to say that we have now expanded from a summer only theatre company to one that produces MainStage, Family, Holiday and Educational programming all year long!
Part of Theatre Raleigh’s mission has also been to foster the next generation of theatre-goers, theatre lovers and theatre professionals alike, and choosing The Secret Garden for our 2017 season gave us a fantastic opportunity to further that mission. Casting Mary Lennox and Colin Craven was a wonderful adventure as we invited and encouraged the children in our community to audition for these principal, main stage roles - an opportunity that doesn't come frequently in our area. Our eventual selections, Skyla Woodard and Keegan Story, knocked their respective roles out of the park, and each of them have gone on to star in many other productions in our region! Several other of the children we met that audition day are now actively involved in our educational programming and working professionally onstage in our Family Series.
Having children star in a show creates another special phenomenon - children in the audience get to see children onstage. There is no greater way to inspire our next generation of actors than for them to see people like them up there doing such cool and exciting and fun work. The Secret Garden brought so many children through our doors and helped guide us toward the idea of expanding our educational and performance opportunities for children!
Ultimately, the magic of The Secret Garden for our theatre was the growth it gifted us. We expanded our staff and our programming, raised money for ourselves and for a wonderfully deserving partner organization, created opportunities for children and families to participate in and enjoy theatre together, and fostered individual growth in each one of our staff members and actors as we stretched out of our comfort zone to bring our community this beautiful, dazzling, timeless and magical production.