By Jaimz Dillman
The American Mall is slowly dying. More and more empty storefronts are popping up among the anchor retailers going out of business. Ideas to reinvigorate the large ghost town buildings range from food halls to affordable micro-housing. But a theater? A school? A costume rental space? Now that's novel. And the brainchild of James Brendlinger is happening at the mall in Oviedo Florida.
Teaching drama for years gave Brendlinger the know-how of how to set up classes, run the costume shop, and create a theater. But how to do it from the ground up? Luckily, he wasn't alone. Alumni from all over came to help out along with professional costumer Kay Gonzales. Through lots of elbow grease and effort, he was off and running January 2019.
"Bren", as he's known to most of his former students, had already established Penguin Point Productions years before for shows outside of the school and a loan-out program for the costume shop. Touted as the largest in the state of Florida, Brendlinger built his collection from donations given to him from closing businesses, theme park cast-offs, garage sale leftovers, and even his alma mater Kutztown University. Once he moved from the high school space he brought most of his collection with him...plus more.
Starting with a small coffee house type theater offering classics like The Importance of Being Earnest along with local music, dance, and magic performers had a new place to stretch their wings. Also with educational classes for upcoming actors, and racks for his collection were squeezed into his first arrangement, he's expanded time and again and taken over every space the Oviedo Mall has offered to him. Now with a full costume shop, 2 theaters, and classes in acting, screenwriting, comic book drawing, anxiety coaching, Improv, and more plus a partnership with Imagine Dance Academy offering classes for all ages and abilities including special needs- Penguin Point has all brought life into an almost entire wing of the once deserted space. With access to an even larger community room and full upcoming shows, there's even more possibilities on the horizon. Check out the calendar at penguinpointproductions.com
Paying to keep everything going once COVID hit has been tight. Keeping everyone safe has been the highest priority on the agenda and cutting audience sizes to half capacity means half the ticket sales. And so another carry over from teaching days of stretching a budget continues annually - the $1/piece costume sale. Overflow of donations, doubles of items already in stock, and just plain fun finds are available to excited shoppers once a year clearing out Penguin Point's storage and helping to pay the bills.
Now boasting 4,500 square feet and over 10,000 costume pieces, the shop is back to providing ensembles and entire plots of full shows for schools, churches, theaters, even cosplayers, and those needing something fab for Halloween.
Speaking of the spooky season, on October 31st Brendlinger is partnering with Mall-O-Ween, store to store trick or treating, The set up has 6 themed rooms to offer a safe and not-so-scary experience. All ages are invited to stroll through and will see characters from Wonderland, Comic book supervillains, The Wizarding World, Pirates, Fairytale Kingdoms, and a Galaxy Far Far Away. Each room has candy or a treat of some sort for attendees. Everything in the mall kicks off at 3 pm with Penguin Point starting festivities at 4 pm and it's all free!
The idea is bringing in displaced kids without the candy grabbing tradition this year and give them a place to be away from the nonstop pandemic cancellations. Even if for a few short hours. And also a chance for more families to see this gem in our community and all that Penguin Point has to offer.