This weekend Parkway Playhouse Junior students will perform ANNIE Jr. Rehearsals have been high-energy and enthusiastic affairs that are characterized by laughter, smiles, and deepening friendships among a cast of kids that is diverse in age and outlook as you could imagine. My own daughter is one of the cast members, and like many other parents, I am thrilled and grateful for her to have an experience like those that she and her friends have had on this show. The students performing are our future. At Parkway Playhouse we take the mentoring of our communities future leaders, artists, entrepreneurs, teachers, and dreamers seriously.
I cannot think of a more appropriate way to express optimism than that which flows freely through the musical, ANNIE. It is at once, a story of rags-to-riches and living a life characterized by purpose and determination. My office is right above our rehearsal space, and I never tire of hearing 30 kids singing “Tomorrow”. I never tire of it because they believe what they are singing about and that affirmation is definitely inspiring.
It is hard to imagine Parkway Playhouse without Parkway Playhouse Junior. Encouraging and watching this program grow from nothing to a such a widely engaging series of classes, performances, and activities is truly rewarding. It is the most important thing Parkway Playhouse has done under my tenure and it is hard to quantify in words why it is so vital. The experience of being in a play brings people in touch with aspects of ourselves that often suffer in the competitive struggle that is dictated by increasingly complicated times. Similarly, watching a play invites us to share in the sense of sharing a story together as a community. Everyone “wins” in theatre because success in the arts is largely defined by the betterment of the community it serves. This is what we hope students in Parkway Playhouse Junior will take away from their experiences here. We think it is great when our students decide to pursue a career in the arts, because we know that they are doing so for the best possible reasons. However, most of Parkway Playhouse Junior students will take other paths, but their memory of singing about “Tomorrow” with full-throated gusto will always be a part of who they are.
Much of what makes Parkway Playhouse Junior such a fantastic experience is the quality of our Teaching Artists, many of whom pull double-duty as they are also a part of Parkway Playhouse’s professional leadership like Bobby Abrahamson (our current Production Manager) and Kristen Livengood (who is our General Manager). We have recently had Amy Weinmeister who taught choreography for our recent Cinderella Kids production class. A staple from the beginning of the program has been Andrea Bailey, who has been responsible for much of the music direction and vocal training for Parkway Playhouse Junior students and whose joy for singing has inspired the young voices now belting out the lyrics for “Tomorrow” with fearless and unfettered enthusiasm.
There would be no Parkway Playhouse Junior with out Mary Katherine Smith-Gall, who has fully and lovingly devoted herself to the students and families in this program. She loves them like they were her own, and I can say this authoritatively because she is my wife. I can see how much of herself is invested in the success of her students. Having a teacher that leads with the heart as well as the mind is a rarity. It is a gift to be treasured and provides inspirational fuel that will last a lifetime. I am so proud of my wife, and simultaneously grateful for what she has made possible here at Parkway Playhouse is unique.
So when you come to a Parkway Playhouse Junior show, the experience you have is one of joyful noise and boundless energy- and I am not just talking about the kids onstage. Parents and members of the community many of whom have never seen a live play before are equally enthralled as the students. It is an electric experience. Being a part of the story is what makes theatre so much more immediate than anything Hollywood could ever give us. Good theatre is an act of sharing and community whether it is our children exploring their own creativity or some of our region’s most accomplished performers.
This is what we do.