The Arts at Angeloria’s – Nancy Sasso Janis

I recently interviewed Angeloria “Lori” Holm, the Artistic Director of The Arts at Angeloria’s, LLC, a unique venue situated on nearly three acres in Southington, CT. This hidden gem has resumed producing live theatrical productions, after surviving despite COVID protocols. I asked Lori, a talented community theater performer as well, about how her beautiful theatrical space came into being, how she managed to weather COVID restrictions, and what is coming up at her venue.

As I recommend in nearly every review I have written about the many shows I have experiences at A@A, do not leave the grounds without touring Lori’s lovingly restored Victorian home that is at the front of the property. The Arts at Angeloria’s is located at 223 Meriden Waterbury Turnpike in Southington.

Tell me how the theater part of The Arts at Angeloria’s came into being.

I got involved in the arts scene here on the East Coast via a local theatre group when I moved here from California. My location was often used for rehearsals, set building, costuming, etc. as I was involved in all aspects of these productions both on and off stage. When the arts were cut from the gifted program I coordinate in my day job, many people, including parents, artists, and actors, encouraged me to pursue opening my place as a center for theatrical and fine arts. I began working with the town and in 2015 The Arts at Angeloria’s opened as a private art school and center for the arts. I converted the garage into a Black Box theatre, had handicapped access ramps installed, widened doors and driveways, expanded the parking lot, and had a sign installed at the street. As interest in theatre classes for all ages and the camps grew, I added the Art Barn to offer additional space out of the weather for classes, music events, and theatrical productions and showcases. That is where we are to date.

You did a great job of staying afloat during the COVID restrictions. What were some of the ways you managed?

Surviving as a shuttered venue during COVID was not an easy task. First of all, I would like to extend my thanks to those individuals and groups that supported The Arts at Angeloria’s, a small business that struggled to survive these past two years, like so many other small businesses around the world.

I managed to stay afloat financially by really tightening the belt by reducing lighting, heat, and other utilities and eliminating services when and where I could. In 2020, I also managed to pick up some art students and offered some small group art experiences and tutoring. In 2021, I resumed our summer camps, organized a cosplay-style wizarding event, and held a production of “Mamma Mia!” in our Art Barn, all of which offered an abundance of fresh air. We also ran a holiday production but, unfortunately, as COVID surged again last Fall, this show was not well-attended and we had to cancel two of our shows due to a potential COVID exposure. This set of circumstances certainly did not help the coffers.

All of these activities were very stressful, especially with respect to creating and enforcing very strict safety protocols. The set design for these events had to be very modest given the lack of budget, but all the patrons who attended had nothing but praise for our productions of “Mamma Mia” and “The Gifts of the Magi,” as well for the Wizard Wander event.

Click to read my review of “Mamma Mia!” and “The Gifts of the Magi.”

I am fortunate to be able to host many events outdoors or semi-outdoors here at The Arts at Angeloria’s and it was a blessing in disguise to have 2020 to work on updating and refreshing the grounds and buildings. The grounds and gardens had become a bit overgrown during the busy first years of starting up The Arts at Angeloria’s organization so it was wonderful therapy to be able to work to restore them during the lockdown months. I was able to freshen up the paint on outbuildings and decks, manicure the gardens, and attend to maintenance on the buildings while being closed since I was able to do the work myself with just some inexpensive paint and a few other supplies.

In June of 2020, I played Abby Brewster in a Live Stream production of “Arsenic and Old Lace” with Castle Craig and I enjoyed doing some Zoom play reads with my friends at CTC. In the fall of 2020, I was approached by Landmark Community Theatre to help with their “Theatre of the Macabre” and in January of 2021 by my friends at Castle Craig players to be a part of their digital production of “The Importance of Being Earnest.” I especially enjoyed working on this project as Miss Prism and creating some of the Victorian hats featured in their production. It was my thinking that if The Arts at Angeloria’s could not be open and I could help other companies in some way, it was a win-win all around. These projects help feed my soul.

In May of 2021, I was happy to help a high school student and actor with his Capstone project on how to create a COVID safe entertainment event. He did a wonderful job creating a stand-up comedy event and this event gave me the chance to field test how I could move people through the main building for facilities usage and create an outdoor box office and concession area. A raffle from that event helped fund the installation of air exchange systems in both the Art Barn and the Black Box and buy plexiglass screens and other PPE in time for our productions of “Mamma Mia!” and “The Gifts of the Magi.”

What were some of the challenges that you had to overcome to get productions on your stages?

In terms of additional challenges involved with getting our productions on stage, I think the greatest challenges included getting vaccination cards on record for actors, production team members, musicians, and patrons, as more folks were able to get vaccinated. It was also very labor intensive to monitor and enforce masking and other safe operating protocols during rehearsals and shows. COVID- related absences were also a huge challenge. In order to reduce numbers in the green room during “Mamma Mia!” (a big cast show), I converted the Black Box theatre into a separate green room so I had to come up with an efficient way to communicate with both locations. Finally, I think the biggest challenge was just trying to keep everyone happy. With the vast array of beliefs about masking and vaccination and appropriate protocol, it was impossible to make and keep everyone happy all the time. Being someone who strives to keep everyone happy, this was exhausting and very stressful.

Our rehearsal for “Mamma Mia” was going on concurrently with summer camp, so I was doubly busy in the heat of summer verbally communicating and wrangling children and parents by day and actors by night. I ended up straining my vocal chords so seriously that I was put on steroids and vocal rest for several weeks before the opening of “Mamma Mia!” I sang for the first time in our rehearsal process at our final dress rehearsal.

I remember “The Sapphire Brooch,” “Mamma Mia!” and the lovely “The Gifts of the Magi.” Am I forgetting anything?

In addition to the shows you mentioned in #4, we also did one other original radio show called “The Ghostly Sonata”. A big challenge I had with the radio productions was creating the sound booths for each actor using clear floor to ceiling shower curtains and then, of course, the countless hours editing the productions. They were not money makers but at least they allowed us to do some storytelling and put it out there to the public. It was such fun to write these with [her partner] Ed Rosenblatt.

You have auditions coming up for “La Cage aux Folles.” Are you looking forward to this production?

I am looking forward to La Cage aux Folles TREMENDOUSLY, Nancy! I purposefully selected June as the time for our production since it is National LGBT Pride month and I am planning extension activities around this topic. I am super excited about our production team for this show as well. I think “La Cage” will be a wonderful and colorful way to celebrate the fact that we, as a global collection of colorful and unique individuals, are navigating out of what was an unprecedented time in our history united by this journey of the past two years.

I am also very excited about the entire Arts at Angeloria’s 2022 season. I have carefully chosen a blend of stories that address topics ranging from understanding, family, hate, hope, love, bullying, substance abuse, and more in both a serious and dramatic way as well as through a good dose of humor. In addition, I am thrilled to be giving a young playwright the chance to go through the vetting process of his first original production and support him as he brings his show to life on stage in the Art Barn this Fall. In addition to “La Cage aux Folles” scheduled for June 4-19 (Auditions on March 20 & 21), our season includes “God of Carnage” for August 26-September 4 (Auditions on May 1 & 2); “In a 1975 Ford Elite” for September 24-October 2 (Auditions on May 15 & 16); and “Nuncrackers” to run November 18- December 4 ( Auditions to TBA).

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