Open Connections

  • SYL dinner Theater 1718
How the Dinner Theater Came to Be and What We Learned

It is a tradition in the Shaping Your Life program to have one of the fundraisers for our group-planned trip in the form of a dinner event for the OC community. For the first number of years, the group hosted a traditional spaghetti dinner. However, three years ago, with some hesitation, we broke from tradition and put on our first Dinner Theater. The event consisted of three one-act plays alternating with meal courses. We were pleasantly surprised and greatly relieved to find that the new format was a real hit. The next year a few brave individuals, including myself, were eager to try it again, except we wanted to write a the play from scratch. It sounded somewhat crazy, and to be honest, it kind of was. However, we went forth, and with the help of more than one miracle, we again pulled off the complex event.


Fast forward to this year….even as the end of the last program year came to a close I was already talking about ideas I had regarding this year’s Dinner Theater. I was eager to again try my hand at writing a completely original script. However, I was missing a writing partner, since the peer (Adam) with whom I had worked with before, had graduated from OC. This is when I turned to Carl. Oh, poor Carl. If he only knew what he was getting himself into.


We started in June throwing ideas back and forth. Unfortunately, nothing had enough potential to warrant much consideration. By the end of August, we still did not have a solid concept, and we had to have a finished script by the end of September. Time was running out. We wanted a play that was original, had active audience participation, remained in line with Open Connections guidelines/ policies, and finally, needed to include some form of statue/portrait of Mike Hilbert (SYL Lead Facilitator). The last one was the most important. Finally, inspiration struck; the play could be a sequel to last year’s production! The major difference would be that instead of the facilitators being kidnapped, the audience would be taken hostage (thus fulfilling our desire for an audience participation component). With Carl serving as both my editor and my link to the outside world, sending emails to other group members and such, I locked myself away and hurriedly rushed to finish the script by the deadline.


At the beginning of October we started rehearsing and that was when the real fun began. As with most plays, we had our moments of wondering if we would be ready in time. Then, just in time for the event, we were finally at the point where we felt comfortable and confident in our abilities and we had become quite adept at comfortably covering for each other if someone missed their line.


Meanwhile, throughout the fall, the non-acting members of the SYL group focused on the logistics of the dinner part of the Dinner Theater: planning the menu, budgeting and pricing, figuring out seating, buying ingredients and preparing the spread. This was a team effort for sure.


Dinner Theater day arrived in January and we were all filled with a nervous excitement. The audiences at both seatings were great participants and really enjoyed the production and dinner. These big group projects are a wonderful time to get to know each other better. We learned a great deal about ourselves and how to operate in stressful situations. Particularly with the group of actors, I feel as if it was a real bonding experience. I had not worked with most of the actors prior to this year and did not know them that well. I found that not only were they extremely talented in so many ways, but also are extremely persistent and driven. I really got to know them better than I would have otherwise, and for that I am very grateful. Thank you to all the actors, cooks, servers and the guests! And a special thank you to Mike and Lucy for providing us with this very unique Real Work* opportunity!


By Seth C, OC Teen and 2018 Graduate




*Real Work is most easily defined by contrasting it with its counterpart, make-work. Real Work is something that is done to produce a useful result and which needs to be done. In the context of “learning” or “educational” situations, were the “student” not to have performed the Real Work activity, someone else would have had to.” - From The OC Glossary of Terms which is available in the OC Parent Resource Library.