WINTER GARDEN The Garden Theatre’s board of directors announced this week that Nao Tsurumaki has been hired as the theater’s new executive director.
Tsurumaki has been in the performing arts industry for the last decade, having graduated from the University of Central Florida and worked as the general manager of the Orlando Repertory Theatre and executive director of the Children’s Chorus of Washington. And he’s always kept an eye on the progress at the Garden Theatre.
“No matter what city you live in, it’s rare to see a new theater open like they did,” Tsurumaki said. “I watched the birth and beginning of the Garden Theatre very closely. It’s become this key player in the arts community, not just in Winter Garden but in Central Florida.”
After former executive director Alauna Friskics announced her departure in March, the board put out a national call to find the right replacement as the theater prepared to head into it’s tenth anniversary season.
“We are thrilled to have found someone with Nao’s talent, experience and passion for the arts to lead the Garden Theatre team into our next decade,” said board President Paul Oppedisano. “Our national search ended when we found the ideal candidate right here in Orlando. Nao fits in perfectly with the Garden Theatre’s amazing spirit.”
Although he doesn’t begin his new role until July 10, Tsurumaki said he is looking forward to working with the team at the Garden Theatre.
“The theater is on this amazing trajectory artistically and financially,” he said. “My goal and hope is to expand the success its had. I’ll be looking to craft a true-north vision of what we want to be as an organization to really define the quality we want to put out there so that the experience for the artists is just as fulfilling and surprising and satisfying as it is for the audience.”
Tsurumaki’s love of theater dates back to his childhood days in Japan as he attended performances with his mother. He said that he always yearned to know what was going on behind the scenes.
After gradating from UCF, Tsurumaki worked several with several performing arts organizations, including the former Seaside Music Theater in Daytona Beach, Disney Theatrical Productions on Broadway and the Orlando Rep. In 2011, he and his family relocated to Washington D.C. so he could lead the Children’s Chorus of Washington, but he always knew he wanted to return to his roots in central Florida.
“My wife and I started here, and I really had my start as a theater professional in Orlando,” he said. “This was always my home in many ways.”
After a few years in D.C., Tsurumaki and his wife decided to move back to Florida to start their own family. And when he heard the Garden Theatre was searching for an executive director, he knew it was an opportunity he couldn’t pass up.
“To be able to raise a family here and to have this opportunity at the Garden Theatre in Winter Garden means a lot to me,” he said. “I always wanted to serve a community where I could serve family audiences. I think this is a wonderful marriage between what matters to me personally and how I can contribute as a professional.”
Tsurumaki said he is looking forward to a starting a new chapter with the theater as it kicks off its tenth anniversary season.
“I’m looking forward to meeting everyone in the community,” he said. “I think this is a wonderful match, and I'm so glad I can be a part of it.”
Contact Brittany Gaines at [email protected].