3 September 2008
Her name was ms. lin McElroy (the "l" was always lower case, and there was a heart dotting the "i"). She was big and brash, with bright red hair, a great sense of fun, and a tremendous love of kids. Our paths crossed when she directed a production of The Sound of Music. The neighbor girls were cast as two of the VonTrapp children and I learned that so many children had come out for auditions that lin decided to work with a double cast, so that more children could have the opportunity to participate.
When the show ended, I introduced myself and told her that if she was ever interested in forming a childrens theatre, Id be happy to help. With that simple exchange, The Sunshine Childrens Theatre was born. SCT wasnt destined for greatness. It never made any big headlines, but it changed the lives of so many children who participated.
lin had the crazy idea that the kids could learn to do it all. They were actors, technicians, designers, choreographers, and costumers -- sometimes all at once. She believed in giving children the tools and the knowledge and trusting that they would not let her down. They never did.
The company consisted of children between the ages of 5 and 12. There were no age divisions. 12 year olds were best friends of 6 year olds. The older kids were the ones climbing up into the catwalk to hang lights, but even the youngest could wield a hammer or help paint the stage before a performance.
Some parents felt there was an excessive time commitment for their children, but ours thrived on it. They practially lived at the theatre. In an age where some young adolescents were wandering around looking for mischief to do, our kids were learning how to hang lights, spending long hours rehearsing scenes, or hammering a set in place. We never had to worry about where they were when they werent at home. They were always at the theatre.
In its five-year history, SCT put on several productions, including an original musical, Go Go, the Blue Gorilla, where Ned got his chance to sing and dance, in a role that could have been written for him. Our kids began to find their niche in the company, with Paul moving into the leading roles, while Jeri and Ned loved the backstage work, though they also acted. When Jeri was too old to be part of the acting company, she became the technical director.
When lin finally left town, the theatre company was stranded. By this time there was a board of directors in place, money in the treasury, and a staff of experienced young members, but there was nobody who could replace lin, nobody who was as dedicated to the theatre experience for children
It had long been a dream for the kids to do a production of Youre a Good Man, Charlie Brown. After much discussion over the next three years, the young actors decided they really wanted to do that show, and that the could do it without lin. They arranged to rent the rights to put on the show. Jeri agreed to be the director. She and other kids took on the tasks of lighting design, set design and building, costuming, choreography and musical accompaniment.
They worked long and hard and in the end put on a professional show that was created entirely by adolescents. At its conclusion, they donated all the proceeds to a fledgling high school theatre group and closed the books on the Sunshine Childrens Theatre.
ms. lin McElroy changed our childrens lives. Jeri has been working as a theatre designer and technician since she received her Master of Fine Arts degree--and is now getting her degree in music; Ned is now the producer of a morning radio program; and Paul, until his death, continued to perform.
It all began with an audition for The Sound of Music and a woman dedicated to allowing children to live up to their potential and to follow their dreams.
PHOTO OF THE DAY
MILES TO NOWHERE: 67.5 miles