Inside Look at Finding Nemo Jr.

Robin Diehl

Robin Diehl serves as Variety’s Programs Director, ensuring the operational success of all Variety programs. She has served Variety Kids and their families for 7 years, and cares deeply about Variety’s mission. Robin has also worked with Lara on many shows during her time with Variety.

“Theatre gives our kids an opportunity to be included and gain self-confidence. I’ve seen kids who, after participating in our plays, go on to audition for their own school plays, something they haven’t done before. They are introduced to the arts and develop a fundamental knowledge of dance, music, and theatre, empowering them to pursue their passions independently. We’re just watering the plant you know, once they have that opportunity, they just grow and bloom.

In the beginning stages of this collaboration, we wanted it to be equitable for everybody. We needed a certain number of kids, so we said let’s divide that evenly between COCA and Variety. This mindset of separating them into two was all pre-auditions and casting. Now that the cast has been set, we are one.

We are all under the sea together. We’re one community and everyone is treated the same way. We’re all equally important and valued. We may move or communicate differently, but really, we are all the same in this production. We all have a shared love of theatre. 

And that’s what I want everyone to know- that it’s not kids with disabilities and typical kids. It’s just a group of kids coming together to learn and grow in this production. It’s a little mini family, everyone belongs. They create new friendships during those three weeks and sometimes those relationships last for years to come.

It has been so wonderful working with Shawna and COCA. We’re always on the same page, driven by our focus on the kids. So this partnership has been incredible so far and I can’t wait to see what’s next.

I am incredibly excited about what the kids will gain from this production and what everyone who witnesses the magic during rehearsals, backstage, and performances will experience.”

-Robin Diehl, Co – Producer of Disney’s Finding Nemo Jr.

Lara Teeter

Lara Teeter has performed, directed and choreographed for major regional theatre and opera houses nationwide. He is a professor of Theatre and the Head of the Musical Theatre Program at The Conservatory of Theatre Arts at Webster University. Lara has dedicated his time and talents to over 10 Variety shows.

“Variety Theatre is very special to me. The moments in rehearsal are special and personal. Like the moment we were working on the Tap Break for Mary Poppins and Andrew, blind, was off to the side and I overheard him say “what is that?” So I stopped, walked over to him, and showed him how to do a shuffle ball change. And he did it! So, we switched gears on the spot and we made him start tapping with Bert in the show.

And this is what I tell people when I talk about Variety theater. I’ve been very lucky in this career, in this life. I’ve worked in New York, I did national tours. I directed and choreographed at opera houses and theatres all over, and I’ve continued to perform and teach this art form, but Variety Theatre without any question, is the most profound theatrical experience of my life.

For me Finding Nemo Jr. is about the following: Family relationships, dreams parents have for their children, and dreams children have for themselves, which don’t always line up. It’s all about holding on, it’s about loss, it’s about destiny, it’s about letting go. Nemo discovers the lengths his dad will go for him. Marlin discovers how to let go and let Nemo follow his dreams. It’s about the ability to rise up and help those in need. It’s about collaboration and working together.

One of the things that we all want the kids to understand from the get-go is that it’s about ALL the people involved in the show. We all matter- the performers, the lighting people, the costume people, the set people, all of us together.  

Coming out of the pandemic and having conversations about what a theatre program was going to look like further down the line for Variety was exciting. Before we even found COCA, we knew we needed to partner with someone that has the space and is accessible. A great thing about this collaboration with COCA is I truly feel like their mission and Variety’s really do align, and I can’t wait to get started in a few weeks.”

-Lara Teeter, Director of Disney’s Finding Nemo Jr.

Shawna Flanigan

Shawna Flanigan, who has been with COCA since 2001, currently serves as its Artistic Director of Theatre. She is passionate about innovation initiatives and developing new opportunities for COCA, significantly contributing to the organization’s growth. Shawna has also worked as a director, assistant director, and dramaturg at various theatres nationwide.

“One of COCA’s core values centers on diversity and inclusion. Our founders felt the arts could be a way to bring all different people together and wanted COCA to be a hub for families from different parts of our city to come together and experience the arts. That is our core belief and identity.

About a year and a half ago, Robin, Lara and I got connected and very quickly thereafter started talking about the possibility of creating an inclusive musical theatre camp and production through a partnership between COCA and Variety.

My favorite part about working in the arts at COCA is the vibrancy, imagination and energy of the children. Watching students grow and develop into confident, happy, expressive adults through the arts is incredible. And I think that’s why it’s been great partnering with Variety because both our organizations have the same values. At the core, we both center and value children and fostering their development.

We were so excited about the fact that we collectively could bring kids onto the stage that don’t get to be on stage quite as much and give them the opportunity to learn from one another as we celebrate their talents. Within the cast are kids that don’t necessarily interact with each other every day, but we hope that both the kids from COCA and the kids from Variety come to realize they love the same things as they become a single cast. At the auditions, one of the things that was so great was that the Variety Kids were so bold.

I’m used to our students being nervous at auditions and holding back but the Variety Kids didn’t hold back and our students, in turn, took more risks and engaged in the play. As the cast becomes one, I believe that they are going to continue to get to know each other, try new things, take risks, and form deep friendships.

I think seeing children’s theatre on stage is so exciting because kids really commit and pour their hearts out on the stage. This production will be the same. And I think our community, when they come and see the show, we’re going to see these kids that have bonded over the past three weeks by telling this very important story that aligns with what they’ve just been through.

I expect to see this level of commitment and passion on the stage that’s going to be really exciting, motivating and heartening to see. It’s going to be really a joyous experience for the audience and for the kids involved.”

-Shawna Flanigan, Co – Producer of Disney’s Finding Nemo Jr.


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