After more than decade of dedication to the Garden Theatre, Artistic Director Rob Winn Anderson will be retiring from his position with the downtown Winter Garden theater at the end of 2018-19 season.
Prior to joining the Garden Theatre, Anderson, 60, worked in theater and the performance industry around the country for more than 23 years.
He joined the Garden Theatre in 2008 as the writer and director of “Curtain Up,” a gala event that honored the opening of the then newly renovated and restored theater. “Curtain Up” featured talent from the local community, as well as Broadway star Davis Gaines. He served as consulting artistic director for about three years before becoming the Garden Theatre’s first, full-time artistic director in 2017.
“I’ve been doing this for 47 years,” Anderson said about his career. “I started working professionally since I was 13, and I have loved it, but it’s time for me to move on and just see what might be next for me.”
The vision Anderson had for the Garden Theatre took shape after he took on the role of artistic director. Anderson has been an integral part of the growth and development of the Garden Theatre throughout his 11-year tenure. He’s credited with helping steer the theater into regional prominence and establishing it as one of the leading theaters in Central Florida, according to a media release.
“Rob is a remarkable collaborator, and we are profoundly grateful to him for his leadership, passion and dedication,” Executive Director Nao Tsurumaki said. “Over the past decade, he has dedicated his creative life to the Garden and has cultivated a growing community of artists, audiences and supporters. I’m so grateful for his contribution, and we’re excited to celebrate his achievements and legacy.”
In his time with the Garden Theatre, Anderson said his proudest accomplishment would be raising the level of the theater’s production value. Today, the Garden Theatre not only pulls from the wealth of local talent in Orange County, but also it attracts talent from around the country.
“The Garden has grown in many different ways,” Anderson said. “It started out, really, as just a booking house for other theaters to use (for) concerts and dance shows, and then they started to feel like producing some theater of their own.
I feel like my biggest achievement — my biggest contribution — has been raising the production values, raising the quality of the shows that happen at the Garden and bringing in designers and different directors who really have helped us raise the standards (at the Garden Theatre). ... We’ve received just an influx of actors and designers who wanted to work with us from all over the country. We use people from all over.”
Although attracting talent from around the country has been a benefit to the Garden Theatre, Anderson added that casting has always been difficult over the years.
“Casting is the biggest challenge,” Anderson said. “We have a very large talent pool in Orlando, however, they don’t really come to Orlando to work in theater. They come to Orlando for the attractions, so that big pool isn’t really open to us the way that it would appear that it is. Retaining casting and retaining that talent all the way up until opening is probably the biggest challenge.”
The growth of the Garden Theatre did more than just bring top-quality talent and shows to the Winter Garden community. The theater has become a destination for visitors and tourists, and it has even played a part in the revitalization of the downtown area, Anderson said.
“When it (Garden Theatre) reopened, Plant Street was pretty much a ghost town,” Anderson said. “There were only a couple of shops opened. Everything else was closed or boarded up, and the Garden Theatre is really responsible for the revival of (downtown) Winter Garden because businesses started to come in. Everything that (downtown) is now, the theater is truly at the heart of that.”
Anderson has been able to produce some of his own original work with the Garden Theatre during his years of involvement. The theater debuted the premiere of Anderson’s musical, “Christmas by Committee,” and the premiere of his play, “A Tennessee Walk,” which was later produced at Southern Appalachian Repertory Theatre and at Jacksonville State University.
“The Garden has been really gracious in that they have produced some of my original work,” Anderson said. “I’ve had three different things produced on the Garden stage that I wrote, and I would say (seeing) ‘A Tennessee Walk,’ which was in last season, ... was a really great moment — (seeing) that play come to life on stage.”
The curtain may be closing on Anderson’s time with the Garden Theatre, but he urges the theater to keep moving forward with the progress that’s been made.
“The Garden is very brave,” Anderson said. “My only message is just to continue to be brave. I’ve always said that that was one of the most attractive and important things about the Garden Theatre is that they are brave.”