My acting career started on the Sunderman theater stage when my little town of Byron, Illinois was raising money to build a wooden playground. "Dreamworks" was the name of the playground, and while the parents in our community toiled outside with hammers and nails to build it, their children toiled inside with costumes and microphones, and the Dreamplayers were born.
We were a motley crew of elementary school students who would do anything for the limelight. As an aspiring actress, my six-year old self seized the opportunity to play a role in the Dreamplayers production, and I got my wish. I played the part of Cinderella in a sketch where I sang a song to the tune of "Blue Suede Shoes" with glass shoes substituted appropriately throughout. It was the start of my love affair with being hammy on stage.
After Dreamplayers, I plunged into theater workshops and camps, school performances, and civic theater roles. Many of my favorite childhood memories happened during my time on stage, from playing Annie (despite having to dye my hair an unbecoming shade of red) and having six on-stage siblings as one of the Von Trapp children in The Sound of Music, to flying over the stage as Peter Pan. There is nothing quite like the thrill of a 30-second costume change gone right (or wrong) or the sound of a full house applauding at the end of the show.
I’m reminded of those days as I watch the Disney+ show, "Encore." The premise of the show is that a musical cast is reunited to perform an encore performance of a show they did in high school together. They bring back people who are now working adults to their hometown theater and rehearse and then perform the show for an audience.
If you’re not into theater, you might be thinking this show sounds awful, but stay with me. The beautiful aspect of the show is not the performances themselves, because they are certainly not Broadway caliber. What is beautiful, I think, is the reflection they all have that who they were in high school — the person who loved performing — went into hiding in their adult lives. I am willing to bet their experience with "Encore" makes them revisit that passion and perhaps audition for community theater, take a dance class, or find another way to unearth their creative passions again.
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Even if you’re not a theater nerd like I was, I think there’s a lesson for all of us as we take on this new decade. What hobbies did we let fall to the wayside in our busy lives as adults? How can we all replay our high school passions?
Join a soccer league. Take a painting class. Attend a writer’s circle. And because theater is my favorite, here are a couple extra plugs for how to get involved with our local theater scene:
1. Audition. The Quad Cities is home to so many theaters, many of which have open auditions for their upcoming seasons this month. Here’s a list of all that I could find: Countryside Community Theater, Genesius Guild, Playcrafters Barn Theater, Quad City Music Guild, The Black Box Theater, The Spotlight Theater, and The Village Theater. Whether you are a theater lover, beginning at a young age like me, or if you’ve never been on stage, these theaters are a welcoming place to explore your passion.
2. Attend. Do your best singing in the shower? No one wants to perform for an empty house. Buy tickets and support your neighbors on the stage. The performers for community theater are your bank tellers, mail delivery people, or dentists (and other jobs too).
3. Volunteer. Not ready to get back into or start your life in the spotlight? Swing a hammer and build a set, use your technical know-how to run the lights, or sell tickets in the box office. Our local theaters are nonprofits that rely on volunteers to keep everything running.
While I don’t plan to audition for anything while my kids are still young, I hope it doesn’t take a stint on "Encore" to bring me back to one of my favorite things to do.
Melissa Pepper is president of Total Solutions and founder of Lead(h)er. Voices of the Quad-Cities, a weekly column featuring local writers, appears on Tuesdays.