Phoebe takes the stage

Well, she did it.

Phoebe made her stage debut this weekend with our children’s community theater company, and Kates and I could not be more proud of her.

Ten years ago, our friends Vanessa and Pat founded this little theater company – “on a wing and a prayer,” they say – as a way to expose local children to the arts and the experience of putting on a full production. That little theater company is not so little anymore and has grown into something of a little summer phenomenon in The ‘Ville. This summer, more than 190 children from four states in grades two through nine are participating.

The kids register to participate in the spring. Those who are interested in lead roles audition for them. All of the kids receive books and CDs and are responsible for learning their lines and music on their own – and they’re expected to know it when rehearsals start during the last week of May.

They rehearse every afternoon Monday through Friday for two and half weeks. The curtain annually goes up the second weekend in June, and the production is a high-quality one that rivals some high school productions I’ve seen.

This year’s feat: “Peter Pan.” It’s the company’s biggest production, yet – complete with flying.

So Phoebe and Kates have attended the shows together every summer at the university’s performing arts center since we moved to The ‘Ville. Last summer, Phoebe became eligible to participate, but she declined despite our gentle encouragement.

This summer, knowing Phoebe would benefit from the experience if she just tried it, Kates and I signed her up without her approval. We signed her up and told her a few days later when it came up in conversation. As we might have suspected, Phoebe burst into tears and stormed to her room to process the whole thing. … Knowing our struggle to convince Phoebe to participate, Vanessa relayed the reaction in her house when they received Phoebe’s registration. Her husband, monitoring the names online as they came in, said, “We got Phoebe!” Vanessa replied that, no, they had Kates and I.

But Phoebe did come around. The next day, in fact, she realized one of her school buddies also was participating and came home from school that afternoon bubbling with excitement. Phoebe was assigned to the pirate chorus. And it’s been all good since.

As the school year wound down, Kates played the CD for the girls while they traveled to and from school each day. I loaded the music on Phoebe’s iPod, too.

Even Faye got into it, begging Kates to stay to watch when they dropped off Phoebe for rehearsals. Faye learned the songs just as well, and Kates would tell me each evening about how Faye literally sat on the edge of her seat, watching the young performers as they rehearsed.

When rehearsals began, Kates took Phoebe each afternoon, and I picked her up on my way home from work, often catching the last 15 minutes or so of the rehearsal. I can’t even describe how joyful it was to see Phoebe on the stage, rehearsing and listening to the director’s instructions. Even the daily communication from the company – which, I should mention, is all volunteer-based – in emails, texts and social media posts was exciting to read and view.

This weekend was the real deal. The entire cast and their families were invited to a company picnic to coincide with the final dress rehearsals Friday evening. Then the company performed at 2 and 7 p.m. yesterday, and again at the same times today.
Though Kates and Faye had seen the whole show in rehearsal a couple times, Friday night’s dress rehearsal was my first time to see it in its entirety.

It was amazing. … After watching Friday night’s dress rehearsal, I said to Kates, “I could watch this a couple more times this weekend.”

The joy and pride of watching Phoebe aside, the lead cast was so charming and talented. That includes the actors playing Wendy and Peter Pan, with whom we attend church and have had the pleasure of watching them grow and develop their talents. And the diminutive third grader playing Tinkerbell was an adorable scene-stealer.

When they flew, it took our breaths away. In Friday night’s dress rehearsal, after the big scene when Peter Pan teaches Wendy and the boys to fly, and the music crescendos and the audience breaks into applause, I leaned over to Kates and just said, “Wow.” I get chills thinking about that moment again now. It was so magical. And during Saturday’s and Sunday’s performances, the scene made me well up. … In the run-up to the show, Vanessa had expressed her anxiety about the technical aspects of it all. They had professionals come into work with the kids and totally pulled it off.

After Friday night’s rehearsal, Kates, Faye and I headed for the wings of the performing arts center to meet Phoebe. When she came out from the dressing room and spotted us, she was beaming and fell into my arms for what goes down as the most memorable hug I’ve shared with her to this point. It was a wonderful moment.

To mark Saturday night’s big performance, we met Phoebe’s request for a Subway supper. And we enjoyed a family treat of Sonic limeades and slushis afterward. … On Sunday morning, Kates had to teach Sunday school but I ceased getting ready for church when we decided to let the girls sleep because we exhausted them the night before and they showed no signs of waking up. Phoebe woke around 9:15, and Faye stumbled out of her room at around 9:45. Church started at 9, Sunday School at 10.

At the conclusion of each performance, the house lights came up and Vanessa joined the kids on the stage for some recognition of the company’s volunteers, sponsors and the kids. On Saturday night, each child received a certificate and participatory medal – when Phoebe’s name was called and she accepted her certificate, Vanessa looked at her and exclaimed, “You did it!” Another cool moment in all of this.

After the final performance Sunday, the tears were flowing. Vanessa’s parting words to the cast were this: On your worst days and lowest moments, don’t forget about all those people out there who were cheering for you and clapping for you. Remember that you are loved and you make a difference in other people’s lives.


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