by Julia O’Halloran Faraci
Its vibrantly magenta-headed History web page proclaims “Oddfellows Playhouse was founded in 1975 as a community-based, multi-cultural theater program designed to include children from all backgrounds.” Throughout its 40+ year history, Oddfellows has been all of that – and more – having a lifelong effect on thousands of young people in Middletown and beyond.
Today, young people from “Little Fellows” of 3 and 4, through elementary and middle-school students, and on through high schoolers, explore themselves and their world through the practice and play of theater and circus.
Through their participation in Oddfellows, young actors learn different forms of performance craft – acting, movement, circus, improvisation – and practice, perseverance and teamwork. An atmosphere of tolerance and acceptance is nurtured, and differences are respected and celebrated.
The Teen Rep company has performed plays from every genre from ancient Greek and Shakespeare to American and world classics to original and experimental plays.
Oddfellows directs its social media toward three main groups – to families (young people and their parents), to community members and potential audiences, and to Oddfellows alums, an especially large group considering the many children who have participated in programs over the years.
Jean Ann Wertz, Oddfellows Operations Manager, finds Facebook the most powerful platform to capture the attention of her wide ranging audience. Families are the prime audience – parents of the young performers currently attending Oddfellows as well as potential students. Since Facebook is used by adults as well as young people in OP’s target audience, she finds that it is a particularly effective means of contact to families.
Wertz used Facebook’s “Boost” to promote the Spring production of Shakespeare’s “Comedy of Errors”. A Broadway World article was posted, resulting in 114 likes and 24 shares – and national attention. Oddfellows can almost always count on coverage from the Hartford Courant and the Middletown Press – these are popular and Wertz will post links to these articles.
Twitter is used too. Timely information, like snow closings, registration reminders, and show blurbs are tweeted – and so are #tbt, announcements of Oddfellows playwright awards, and rehearsal and performance photos of current productions.
Spring is a busy time for Oddfellows. After the March production, auditions start for the Spring production and applications are coming in for campers and counselors for the Children’s Circus.
Registration can be completed easily on a form on the Oddfellows website, and paid through PayPal.
As part of Oddfellows’ mission to serve all children regardless of ability to pay, the Playhouse has financial aid available to any child who otherwise would be unable to attend.
Program registration is open – look what fun you will have with us!
The Children’s Circus is the highlight of the summer for many Middletown families. Every year, hundreds of children spend five weeks learning to juggle, dance, clown, walk on stilts, tumble, and ride unicycles from circus artists – many of whom were circus kids themselves. On the last Friday of the program, they gather in the schoolyard of a Middletown school, and with costumes,handmade props, giant puppets, and colorful sets, they put on the greatest show in Middletown.
All photos by Kisha McWilliams Michael from “Headin’ West”: 2015 Children’s Circus (oddfellows.org)
On its webpage, The Oddfellows Circus link has information about the program, which is full-time for the first time in 2016. Since registration is through Kids Arts, the site links to a fillable form through the City’s website.
The Oddfellows Alumni Facebook page is used by the many adult children who were Oddfellows Playhouse and Circus kids. Alumni keep track of each other’s life journeys and share memories.
Wertz also keeps in touch with Playhouse alums by sharing articles and news. Recent posts have included “Running Away to Join Circus Theatre” by Gary M. Kramer, published on American Theatre magazine’s website, community announcements, current photos of Oddfellows kids, and of course, TBTs.
Engaging photos and vibrant design draw users into the website and Facebook pages of Oddfellows Playhouse. The organization reaffirms its long commitment to bringing the arts to the Middletown community with its outreach, communication and service to families.
Videos from Youtube.