Profile: Local Horizon Performing Arts Has “Changed People’s Lives”

Sometimes, good ideas begin in a laboratory or a classroom or a basement or a garage. Other times they begin at Bob Evans.

“We began our conversations about the Horizon Performing Arts at Bob Evans over breakfast in February of 2017 and the rest is history,” says Reilly Conlon, the associate director of the popular local theatre that brings quality performing arts and arts education to the Ypsilanti and Ann Arbor area.

Horizon Performing Arts is a new non-profit theatre group in Washtenaw County that focuses on art education for all ages. After breakfast, they formed a theatre board by the end of March and were incorporated as a non-profit by the end of April 2017.

“Brandon (Waldenmayer), Reilly and I had worked together for quite a few years,” says Executive Director Dr. Linda Venable-Boehk. “I love the energy and creativity that they have. Even though I’m much older than them, we work so well together. They were first students who became friends and colleagues. Together the three of us have a lot of the bases covered when it comes to the craft of creating theater. For me the timing was right to start something new and I wanted to continue to work with Brandon and Reilly.”

Dr. Linda Venable-Boehk with co-founders Brandon Waldenmayer, artistic director, and Reilly Conlon, associate director.

Waldenmayer, the theatre’s artistic director, was not only enthusiastic about the project but also about working with his other two friends in such an exciting and important endeavor.

“I had been taking voice lessons with Linda for over a decade when one day after a lesson she asked if Reilly and I might be interested in forming a theatre organization that focused on education,” said Waldenmayer, who has worked with his two colleagues on a variety of different community theatre projects over the years. “I said absolutely!”

Waldenmayer, who grew up doing theatre in Southeast Michigan, graduated from Eastern Michigan University with degrees in both Theatre for Young Audiences and Nonprofit Administration.

“When the three of us realized there was this need in the community for a nonprofit educational theatre company, it seemed like a no brainer. I was eager to put my schooling to good use and I love working with both Reilly and Linda.”

Colon said it became clear that there was a vacancy within the community when it came to unique and educational theatrical experiences for all ages.

“Not only are we interested in expanding the minds of young people, but our intention is to reach all ages,” he says. “No matter your age or skill level, we firmly believe that you can gain something from the performing arts.”

Waldenmayer says the rewards have been endless and “such a wonderful journey so far.”

“I have gotten to perform, produce and direct works that I never thought I would get to be a part of,” he says. “Bringing this type of unique theatre to the community while teaching and learning along the way is truly amazing.

“I have also come to appreciate the administrative side of theatre a lot more since Horizon began. I don’t think people understand the long process that each production, class or workshop goes through before it is even announced to the public. I’m so fortunate to be a part of that process.”

That process has included some brilliant productions. Shows have included “Winnie-The-Pooh,” “The Wizard of Oz,” “Stuart Little,” “Fully Committed,” “Falsettos,” “Disaster,” “Charlie Brown,” and “The History of Broadway,”
Horizon Performing Arts presents Disney’s “Freaky Friday” in December at the Riverside Arts Center in Ypsilanti. The new musical, making its regional premiere, will run from Dec. 14-16.

Since Horizon first opened the curtain, the theatre has had more than 260 cast and crew members, worked in four different venues and sold more than 2,725 tickets.

“Our shows have been touching and funny and sad and just about every emotion imaginable,” says Venable-Boehk. “I’m just thrilled to be a part of this unique experience that changes lives.”

Conlon couldn’t agree more.

“We have reached hundreds of community members in the Southeastern Michigan region both as active participants and loyal patrons,” he said. “Our social media presence has gained large momentum both on Facebook and Instagram. And we continue to improve and grow with each new project that we set out for ourselves.”

Horizon has established a clear identity in a vibrant theatre scene. But the productions are only a part of what the community theatre is all about. They also offer a variety of classes and workshops throughout the year for “students” of all ages.

For example, this fall Conlon hosted a musical theatre dance class for ages 9 and up that focused on Broadway-style choreography, innovative methods for choreography composition and improved stamina, technique, flexibility and confidence.

“Horizon allows me to not only use the skills that I have mastered over the years such as choreography and stage management, but I also get to grow as a teaching artist and director with every new project I am given,” Conlon said. “Teaching artists here are encouraged to challenge themselves and step outside their comfort zones to be able to grow alongside their students and cast members.  For me, there is nothing better than to be able to create and learn all in the same space.”

And that “space” is growing with each show, each cast member, each audience member and each and every person they reach.

“In five years I really believe Horizon Performing Arts will be a necessity in the community,” Waldenmayer says. “So many people in this area are hungry for quality theatre while at the same time they want to be challenged to grow and learn. Horizon strives to bring unique and meaningful productions to this area. I have no doubt that in five years we will have grown to be a shining example of all that can be accomplished with an idea, lots of hard work and of course, friendship.”

And his friends certainly share that vision.

“There are many things that we do now that I think we will be doing in five years,” says Venable-Boehk. “I want to continue to see mentoring between more experienced and less experienced cast members, crew members and staff members. I want us to continue to produce unique theatre experiences that touch all ages and educate and enrich. I would love it if we were able to get our own facility where we can not only hold all of our rehearsals, but do smaller intimate shows as well. I’m really amazed and grateful for what Horizon has been able to accomplish so far and I can’t wait to see what the future holds.”

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