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So I Opened A Performing Arts School at the Mall...

I was a teenager in the 1980’s, the golden age of shopping malls. We lived in a rural area, but my Friday nights were still based on hanging out with my friends at Lehigh Valley Mall, Berkshire Mall, or (if we were feeling fancy) The King of Prussia Mall. Even before I could drive, someone’s mom would drop us all off, and we had a complete evening of adventure laid out for us: eating Mexican food at Chi-Chi’s, playing some games in the arcade, laughing our way through Spencer Gifts, spending my allowance at the record store. Movies like FAST TIMES AT RIDGEMONT HIGH and VALLEY GIRL reinforced the mall culture. One of my favorite images of the eighties is Tom Petty strumming his guitar down the endless escalator of the mall in his “Free Fallin’” video.

In the nineties, I worked at the Fox Movie Theater in the Fairgrounds Square Mall, but I dreamed of working at Chess King, the cool clothing store by the food court. Soon after I moved to Florida, formerly rural Oviedo was getting its own shopping mall, the serpentine Oviedo Marketplace. I spent a lot of weekends catching movies at the Regal, eating dinner at Cha-Cha Coconuts, buying my new Florida wardrobe at Pac-Sun, and buying movies and music at FYE. It wasn’t as big as the Altamonte Mall or as glamorous as the Florida Mall, but Oviedo had a vibe all its own—even after it changed its name to the more stately-sounding Oviedo Mall.

When I began looking for a home for Penguin Point Productions, I was picturing a warehouse space, or maybe some funky old restaurant. The places I toured were either too scary, too remote, or too expensive—and then a friend suggested I check out our local mall. The rise of internet shopping and the decline of the economy in the 2000s made it difficult for malls to thrive. Even the Westside Pavilion, where Tom Petty filmed his iconic music video, has been transformed into offices for Google. The malls that want to survive are having to think outside the box—and that’s just what Oviedo has been doing. The mall management welcomed the idea of doing something a little bit different here.

The old “Pet Rescue by Judy” space seemed perfect for a reception area and costume shop, and the two storefronts next door were soon transformed into a blackbox theater, a dance studio, and two classrooms. Parents seem to love dropping off their children for classes and then doing some shopping, hitting the gym, or just taking an air-conditioned walk around our one-mile indoor walking path. Teenage students seem to find their way to the food court and Barnes & Noble both before and after their classes and camps, and our cast parties gravitate toward District Eat & Play or the Oviedo Brewing Company depending upon the ages of the cast and crew of our plays.

I don’t think teenage me—longing for a minimum wage job selling parachute pants at Chess King—would ever have imagined that I’d own a costume shop, performing arts school, and community theater in a shopping mall someday. But if he did, I know he would want to make everybody a mix tape to celebrate the occasion, so here you go: the unofficial Oviedo Mall Mix Tape:

“Shopping Mall of Love” by Sparks

“Free Fallin” by Tom Petty

“Funplex” by The B-52’s

“Sprawl II” by Arcade Fire

“Shopping From A to Z” by Toni Basil

"Somebody's Baby" by Jackson Browne

“Been Caught Stealing” by Jane’s Addiction

“Rockin’ Shopping Center” by Jonathan Richman

“Love For Sale” by Talking Heads

“Valley Girl” by Frank Zappa

“The Valley of Malls” by Fountains of Wayne

It’s Friday night, gang—I’ll meet you at the mall!

--James Brendlinger

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