Actors Reaching Out
Building Community Through Theater
Phase One: 2008
Actors Reaching Out began when founder Eric Scherer was in high school. His drama teacher asked all of the students to pick a play over the summer for them to produce the following year. Eric came back with a thoroughly researched list compiled and sorted by title and cast size. His first choice was "Dorothy Meets Alice", a show that crossed beloved characters from both Wonderland and Oz. Due to time constraints, he was told he could not produce the show. At that point, he took matters into his own hands.
Eric had been volunteering with his local library for years, and he immediately turned to them. He asked if he could produce the show as a part of their summer reading program. With the help of friends and family, the show ran on July 3, 2008 at the Pinellas Park Public Library.
The group continued to produce shows for the libraries and other local events from 2008 to 2011. By then the various members were moving on to school and careers, and the decision was made to close the group.
Phase Two: 2014
Eric moved to Orlando to attend UCF and work at the Walt Disney World Resort. He continued to work on script and projects ideas, which caught the attention of his friends and coworkers. They encouraged him to relaunch Actors Reaching Out in Central Florida.
The first few people joined him on the Board of Directors and drafted the necessary documents to establish ARO as an official 501(c)3 nonprofit. The first production for the newly reestablished group was a performance celebrating Dr Seuss for a local elementary school on March 2nd, 2015.
Performances in 2015 included partnering with United Way and Children's Home Society, Book Fest at UCF, the opening ceremonies at Gods and Monsters Comic store, and more. One of the highlights was the first library tour. To celebrate the 70th anniversary of the Railway Series, Eric wrote an original production drawing on the books and television series. The show ran in three libraries branches over a three-month period.
2016 saw Actors Reaching Out produce their first full musical. Carrie The Musical was presented in May, and ARO was the only organization in the world to present the show on the dates mentioned in the book and musical: Friday, May 27th and Saturday, May 28th. The show brought in more new members than all of the previous productions combined. Everyone on the project learned a tremendous amount that would be applied to future endeavors.
Shortly after the production of Carrie closed, Orlando was struck to the core by the Pulse tragedy. ARO jumped into action, along with the rest of the City Beautiful. That day, board members gathered the requested supplies and brought them to a OneBlood location in the heart of the city. In under two weeks, ARO partnered with Rollins College to produce Rainbow Connection: A Musical Tribute to Pulse and raised over $400 for the OneOrlando fund.
The shows in 2016 also built off of 2015. The previous year had a library tour of one show with three performances; now there were three shows with fourteen performances in total. One of those was very special; ARO brought back "Thomas And The Big Celebration" in an expanded form. Thomas And Friends creator Britt Allcroft joined the effort to deliver a truly unique experience to the families of Central Florida on November 5th, 2016.
2017 took the momentum from 2016 and continued moving forward. Batketeers, ARO's first webseries, began in 2016 with Season 1 ending and Season 2 beginning over the summer of 2017. Consistent shows like Earth Day at Tibet Butler Nature Preserve and Dr Seuss's birthday became tradition. Regular performances with partners like Give Kids The World Village gave Actors Reaching Out the structure needed to continue to grow.
The best performances are the ones in which ARO can blend all of the primary goals of the organization: presenting innovative theater experiences, celebrating literacy, and enabling community outreach. Give Back To Hogwarts was one of the highlights of 2017. The show was a loving parody of the saga of Harry Potter, one of the most important literary figures in current pop culture. The show itself was written from scratch, and gave ARO members the chance to apply everything they had learned thus far. Audience members were asked to bring school supplies to donate to Children's Home Society and rewarded with raffle tickets. The show sold out in Orlando and was featured at Tampa Bay Comic Con the following month.
Actors Reaching Out saw tremendous growth in 2017. Membership numbers doubled, and a combined 7,300 hours were volunteered on a variety of projects. Performances stretched across the state of Florida, and even saw the first out-of-state performance as guests at the Spirit of Halloweentown event in St Helens, Oregon. After three successful years of using theater to promote community outreach and literacy in Orlando, the next step became clear.
Phase Three: 2018
Actors Reaching Out started Phase Three in 2018. ARO is transitioning from being exclusively based in Central Florida to a national nonprofit with chapters across the country. Plans are already underway for new chapters to open in the near future, including Gainesville and Tampa Bay.