A few days before Connor Norton’s last birthday, his mother asked his what he wanted.
“I’m at that age where I really couldn’t think of anything,” he said. “Instead, I was thinking about the 49 people who lost their lives in the pulse Nightclub shooting and whose birthdays would never be celebrated again.”
For Connor, company manager at Virginia Stage Company, that moment served as the seed for a project to commemorate those lives.
He founded The Orange Ave Project. Named for the Orlando street where Pulse is located, the Project’s purpose is to collect the stories, memories, perspectives, and words of those directly and indirectly affected by the tragedy.
“The project is unique in that we’re not going to remember the tragedy, but the people: their lives and the light they brought to others,” said Conner. “And most importantly, how the world should never take the loss of these lights for granted.”
Connor and his small army of artist-researchers will spend two weeks in Orlando later this month conducting intensive interviews. When they return, they will weave them into an evolving and experimental ethnographic research theatre piece. The finished production will debut in May 2018.
As is always the case with a project of passion, funding is key to its success.
“We’re approaching funding on a strictly grassroots participation level,” he said. “We’re biting off one piece at a time.”
Under the guidance and support of the Zeiders American Dream Theater’s Hatchery Project, the Project is also supported by collaborative relationships with Equality Florida and StoryCorps. Just last week, the Project received sponsorship from the Matthew Sheppard Foundation. The Project also runs a GoFundMe page.
In addition, Connor and his artistic partners are producing 16 short plays from the “After Orlando: Stories of Los 49” theater action production at the Governor’s School for the Arts in Norfolk this weekend.
Written by famous playwrights such as Neil Labute to Amina Henry, the plays are in response to the Pulse shooting and bring to the stage the emotions and feelings of activists, writers, survivors, and others affected by the tragedy.
“These short pieces run the gamut from fantasy to reality,” said Connor. “They bring together singular voices of their writers in to one collective piece that moves us beyond mourning into healing.”
Directed by Connor, Kat Martin, Ricardo Melendez, and Lindsay Eure with music by Jake Hull, the performance will benefit The Orange Ave Project. Friday night’s performance will be preceded by a raffle and silent auction. A second performance will take place Saturday night.
On Sunday, Connor and his team leave for Orlando.
“The project will take more time, resources, and effort than anything I’ve done before,” said Connor. “But the end result is something that will live far beyond the pain of the shooting, and my team and I are committed to making that happen.”
WANT TO GO?
“After Orlando: Stories from Los 49”
Friday, June 9
Silent auction and raffle at 6:30 PM
Curtain at 7:30 PM
Saturday, June 10
Curtain at 7:30 PM
The Governor’s School for the Arts Dalis Black Box Theatre
254 Granby St
Norfolk, VA 23510
Tickets: $25.00 | Buy online