Sunday, August 07, 2011

Magic Up Our Sleeve

If I ever become a superhero (according to my 4-year-old, it's possible!), my origin story would begin here...with a close-up of a bearded, bespectacled man clutching a microphone, counting to three, and shushing an audience full of wide-eyed kiddies.

When I was about four years old, my parents started bringing me to the children's shows at Upper Darby Summer Stage. Every show began with the theme song, "Magic Up Our Sleeve," followed by the founder Harry Dietzler (insert bearded bespectacled man) urging us to count to three to turn off the lights and start the show.

When I was ten, I was finally able to join the Apprentice Program. I took daily classes in acting, improv, dance, music, and speech. I expected to only embrace dance, but was surprised by how much I enjoyed the other classes as well. I especially liked improv--the idea of flying without a net and diving into the unexpected. It taught me how to take risks and bounce back from failure or disappointment.

From there, I did five years of Children's Theater (playing everything from a dwarf to a mermaid) and five years of Mainstage (where my biggest role was Wife #5 in "Joseph"). There were lots of laughs (endless games of "Freeze Frame" in a sizzling courtyard), lots of tears (usually when I didn't get a part I desperately wanted), and of course lots of drama (both onstage and off.) But there were also lots of pleasant surprises--new friends, finding out I was kind of good at Shakespeare, and when Tina Fey (yup, she worked there during college) named me Summer Stager of the Week for IMPROVISING to cover a mistake during "Hans Christian Anderson."

Harry was kind enough to let me join the staff right out of high school, in a variety of roles: intern, assistant choreographer, stage manager, storytelling teacher. I found that as much as I loved performing, I loved sparking that desire in young people even more. When I was 21, he blessed me with the Big Kahuna--my very own Children's Theater show to direct. (It was "Sleeping Beauty," and it was freaking adorable.)

I then took a nine year hiatus during my time in JC. But every summer, I managed to meander back to good ol' Summer Stage to catch a show or just say hi. And when we returned to PA in '07, Harry welcomed me right back. I now teach acting and improv to the Apprentices, and can't believe that I get paid for such a fun, rewarding job.

On our last day of class, I always have a little reflection with the kiddies--asking what surprised them about the past few weeks, and what they will remember. Our kids come from a huge array of backgrounds (seriously, if you want to see a cross-section of every ethnicity and socioeconomic status, stop by Summer Stage. It's an unbelievable testament to arts education as the great bridge builder.) Yet across the board, the answers are always the same:

"All the friends I made."
"How much fun we had."
And my fave...
"That it's okay to be weird."

It's hard to explain this special program to people who haven't experienced it. " it's like a theater camp?"

Um...sort of.

Someone once said, "your talents are God's gifts to you. What you do with those talents are your gifts to God."

Summer Stage teaches children to find their gifts, but even better, how to use them for the greater good.