Disney Grants and The REP: Playing a Starring Role in Central Florida’s Arts Scene

Filed in: About WDW, Making a Difference, Walt Disney World Resort

Lake Buena Vista, Fla., Nov. 11, 2015 — As a longstanding supporter of the Orlando Repertory Theatre (The REP), Walt Disney World Resort has provided the professional family theatre with Disney VoluntEARS, in-kind donations and financial support for more than a decade. That support includes an annual $30,000 Disney Grant, which helps The REP bring the magic, inspiration and community experience of theatre to local children and families.

“At The REP, our mission is to enlighten, entertain and enrich Central Florida families,” said Gene Columbus, executive director of The REP. “With the annual Disney Grant contribution, we’re able to extend our reach and create ‘moments that matter’ for a variety of young audiences, especially those who don’t otherwise have the chance to experience theatre.”

The REP uses its Disney Grant to give Central Florida’s young people the opportunity to experience captivating stories, express themselves and build a lifelong love of the arts.

“The REP is a cultural gem for our community,” said Joee Gaida, guest health services manager for Walt Disney World Resort and secretary of The REP’s board of directors. “It’s a place for kids and families to come together and experience art in a way that’s fun, relatable and rewarding.”

One of the theatre’s initiatives brings groups of underserved children to The REP to attend a performance, share a meal with the actors and staff and then play theatre games that engage them in the production’s story. Through The REP Youth Academy, children also have access to the theatre’s acting and production classes, camps, workshops and performance opportunities.

“With [its] high-quality production and positive messages, The REP’s plays and musicals are so impactful for kids today,” said Dianne Dorsey, a member of the entertainment team at Walt Disney World Resort and Disney VoluntEAR. “We all know it’s hard for schools to accommodate the expense of bringing the arts to children right now. But The REP offers an accessible, affordable way for kids to be a part of the arts.”

In addition to helping fill the arts void in local schools and communities, The REP uses Disney’s contribution to connect the community’s generations. During a recent young women’s leadership program, theatre staff took high school students to a senior center, where they heard the life stories of older women. The REP’s professional staff then helped the students create a play based on the stories, which they performed for the seniors.

“Programs like these help community members of all ages experience theatre as if they’re seeing it for the first time, because they see it through the eyes of children,” said Columbus, a former Disney Cast Member.

Disney also has made a variety of unique in-kind donations to The REP. Leftover carpet remnants from one Walt Disney World resort hotel cover the floor backstage, banquet chairs from another resort provide extra seating for events, and surplus fabric from Walt Disney World Entertainment have been donated and stitched into colorful costumes and props for The REP’s shows. When possible, The REP also shares Disney’s in-kind donations with cultural arts partners in the region.

In March, The REP was one of 102 Central Florida nonprofits and organizations that received $4.5 million in Disney Grants to help them positively impact more than 250,000 children and their families in Orange, Osceola, Seminole, Lake and Polk counties. Applications for 2016 Disney Grants are now open through Dec. 4 here.