Since the controversial departure of Artistic Director Joseph C. Walsh from the Garden Theatre, the most frequently asked question in the arts community has been, “How’s Joe?” During her three-year tenure, Walsh diversified offerings from the critically and publicly acclaimed Winter Garden municipal scene, and her exit sparked a wave of staff resignations. [see “Live Active Cultures,” June 29]. When I recently sat down with him for an interview at a cafe just across Plant Street from his old playhouse, he was as quiet about this situation as he has been all summer. But Walsh has a clear message to send to his many supporters: “I’m doing great.”

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“The outpouring of support has been overwhelming,” says Walsh. “If there’s anything I want to say, it’s ‘thank you’. Thank you to this community; thank you to my friends; thank you to my colleagues, the comedians. It’s truly amazing to feel so much support for me -self and for the work we have done.

After getting Garden Theater on your feet on his feet, Walsh spent two weeks leading a Disney revue at a summer camp in New York City, where he “catching up on shows, catching up with friends, and it really felt like my break.”

Rather than rehash the past, Walsh was here to talk about the future, in the form of his new artistic venture, Ghost Light Theatricals. The company is a spiritual successor to Wild Oats Productions, a British Walsh troupe founded in 2005 with Rob Archibald, Alexander Rudd and Kevin James.

The new name pays homage to the safety lights always left on stage in darkened theaters, which Walsh calls “a sign of hope [and] always a sign that theaters were coming back… so it was an image that really came to my heart.

Phantom Light’s values ​​of “hope, safety and community” are what Walsh and his associates – including associate director James Tuuao, who joined us for our conversation – say they are building their new business. around. Walsh says one of their top priorities is collaborating with others to “create safe spaces as a community… to deepen the conversation. [and] ways to discuss needs as theater changes…so that as a group we can help improve theater practice for participants.

Tuuao, a veteran Disney dancer-choreographer from California who started working with Walsh last year divine spellattests that Walsh “has always been really good at opening up the floor and opening the table to voices, and making them heard”.

You can see this ethos reflected on stage from their inaugural production by Michel Marc Bouchard Lilies: or the rebirth of a romantic drama, through September 24 at the South Playhouse Theater (teachtix.com/tsplayhouse/lilies). Walsh presented the UK premiere of the play with Wild Oats 15 years ago, and he says he wanted to bring the queer Quebec prison drama to life because “what really interests me is finding the beauty in harsh or ugly places, and really trying to empower that beauty and using theater to remind us that beauty and humanity can be found anywhere.

Walsh says he was originally worried the script had aged badly, but after asking friends to proofread it, he decided that the same-sex love story between schoolboys not only remained relevant, but that it was “really interesting and important to tell this story now”. and to offer a conversation around it, especially since we live in a state with the “Don’t Say Gay” bill.

The cast of nine includes John E. Palmer and Ryan Ball as unjustly imprisoned Simon Doucet, with Bob Brandenburg and Nicholas Querino as his old friend-turned-bishop Jean Bilodeau, and Michael Morman in multiple roles.

“We found brilliant artists who really know how to connect not only with the material, but also with each other, and they relate so well to every character in the piece,” says Tuuao.

Walsh calls the set “an incredibly talented, wonderful, open cast of actors”, saying, “Everyone came ready to be part of an experience where we talked about ourselves, and we use the objective of ourselves and our experiences to create these characters. … I think we really find a very unique new perspective to this work, because everyone gets into the room and into the table.

Beyond this first production, Walsh says Ghost Light is looking to create an educational program, which could include a musical theater writing course and a songwriting workshop. They are also “exploring all options” to become a non-profit organization and recently held a fundraiser that attracted the talents of nearly 20 of Central Florida’s top singers.

“It was so wonderful to start this business with such love,” Walsh says of this supporting show, which Tuuao calls “really eye-opening…because we all have our own individual stories with Joe, but to hear it in a full house… it was really nice to be able to celebrate for Joe, and also for the theater.

For Walsh, what Ghost Light produces is ultimately less important than how they get there. “It’s all about the process, not the product. When you start to open your eyes to the process that’s at the center of the experience rather than the product, you really open yourself up to those moments that are worth it,” sums up Walsh.

“I’ve often found that when the process is right: when the process is solid, when the process is collaborative, and you allow everyone in the room to have a voice in the product, the product follows suit. But that’s not the goal.

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