A Passion for Production.
Ten years into his time at the Orlando Repertory Theatre, Executive Director Chris Brown has a clearly defined vision for the next 10. But he couldn’t have known just how it would be tested. With the help of his own team and that of R-Squared Solutions, the theater survived the onset of the COVID-19 crisis as an example for the rest of the community.
“My passion was always for production. I grew up building sets and creating the world of the stage,” Brown said. He followed that passion through school, earning a bachelor’s degree in theater from the University of Central Florida (UCF) and a master’s from Yale University. He spent years working on Broadway before family considerations brought him back to Central Florida.
He’s been with The Orlando REP, as it’s affectionately nicknamed, ever since. From his first role as production manager to his work as general manager and now in his current position, Brown has believed in the mission of The REP and the possibilities it holds. “I was drawn to it because I knew the company so well. I love the company, I love the mission: to create experiences that enlighten, entertain and enrich our audience’s lives.”
The pandemic has created a new landscape for every type of business, even nonprofits like the theater. But Brown looks at the challenges of COVID-19 as opportunities to think in new ways: “We have been presented opportunities through this to reevaluate our work and reorganize it through our lens of impact. Our impact is on teaching kids about empathy and building up their character, helping kids find their voice and building a better tomorrow through the tool of theater.”
The REP sits in a unique position. As a performing arts theater for young audiences, it doesn’t rely solely on its productions for revenue but can expand to educational and developmental programming.
When operations changed overnight, pivoting to the changes brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic, Brown and his team were ready. They started virtual camps almost immediately. Without constant stage productions, they found new time to dive into research and development that has been vital to the creation and implementation of programs that will fuel The REP’s programming and mission for years to come.
“The folks around the country who are struggling the most are the ones who are trying to get back to what they used to know,” Brown said. “When we shut our doors on March 13th, we told the staff: “We are not going to throw stuff online. We are going to play a long-term game here.”
The REP closed its fiscal year at the end of June as one of only two local arts groups that did not furlough their full-time staff. It also did not make changes to its employee benefits or payroll.
“We have kind of had to throw out job descriptions,” Brown laughed, because roles have shifted to digital and content creation and other forms of production. “But we’re moving forward. We never wanted to sit and wait.”
Setting the Stage
When Bill “Roto” Reuter, president of consulting firm R-Squared Solutions, met with Brown and his team two years ago, they couldn’t have known that this year’s pandemic would be the crisis that would put their groundwork to the test. But as Brown explains it, the consultation with Reuter was a key factor in keeping The REP from losing its way during the crisis.
Reuter conducted a SWOT analysis for The REP, analyzing the organization’s strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats. He helped get everyone on the same page to understand the theater’s competitive advantages.
“That process helped us get to a place where we could develop a true strategic plan,” Brown said. “That’s what Roto’s really good at. When you have the foundation to build off of, you don’t have to go through the discovery again. We’ve already had those conversations, so
now we can adapt a little easier. We’re less concerned with what we’ve been doing for years and we’re more ready to move forward.”