My younger daughter, Mia — she’s 9 — was cast to play the part of little sister Kirsti Johansen in the Theatre of Youth’s recent production of Lois Lowry’s “Number the Stars”. Actually, because the schedule of performances was demanding, that role was double-cast, and she shared it with another girl.
Friday was supposed to be the final performance. I was even going to let her do the talk-back; something she hadn’t been able to do during any of the earlier school performances because I needed to rush her back to school before lunch ended. I had figured today’s the Friday before break — what the hell. The talk-back, to the uninitiated, is a unique feature at TOY where some of the cast come out after the performance and answer questions from kids in the audience.
Unfortunately, the Friday performance was canceled because of the snow. The districts coming to see it today were unable to do a field trip into a district that was closed; in this case, Buffalo.
Doing this production was a huge commitment in time and energy. I know that most (if not all) working actors in Buffalo also have day jobs, and I have nothing but kudos for them for the physical and emotional investment they make in practicing their art. This is not an easy gig, but you do it because you love it.
For a 4th grader, it’s tough rehearsing and doing run-throughs from 6pm — 10pm on a school night, but she did it through the second half of December and most of January. Rehearsing, blocking, and memorizing lines, taking direction, and absorbing notes take a toll on a 9 year-old from 10 — 4 on a Saturday. The performances themselves took place over the course of four weeks, plus public performances last weekend — my daughter did two on Saturday; one at 2 and another at 5:30. She did nine performances in all, and the tenth was canceled.
But she did it. She learned her lines. She acted in front of several hundred people nine times. She was mic’d. She knew her cues. She knew where to stand, where to look, how to act, how to emote. She made people laugh. She acted. She did it.
It’s a hell of an accomplishment, what she did. I’m really proud of her. She proved — most of all to herself — what she’s capable of. She can be thoughtful, diligent, and mature if she puts her mind to it. We had some stumbles here and there with schoolwork falling behind, but she’s still a 9 year-old. She has yet to correlate her abilities to her everyday behavior. Kids are, after all, a work in progress.
The reason for writing this — apart from memorializing it for some future time when she might stumble on it — is to thank Meg Quinn, Brittany Wysocki, and the rest of the staff and crew at the Theatre of Youth for taking a chance on her, and giving her a first taste of professional theater. You treated her with patience, kindness, and respect and for that we are eternally grateful. It is an experience we’ll never forget.
I also want to thank the cast — the German soldiers, Bryan Patrick Stoyle and Steven J. Brachman. Uncle Henrik, played by Eric Rawski. Jesse Tiebor, who played Peter. Mama and Papa Johansen, played by Diane Gaidry and Larry Smith. Katie Harrington, who shared the role of Kirsti with Mia. Anne Boucher, who played Ellen Rosen, and Renee Landrigan, who played Annemarie. Many thanks to Joy Scime, Marissa Biondolillo, Justin Fiordoliso, Priscilla Young Anker, and David Butler. Thanks also to Barbara Priore, who was in charge of wardrobes, Dixon Reynolds, who did the costumes, and Todd Proffitt, who did the lighting and handled backstage duties.
Thank you to you all. You are so dedicated and talented, and your professionalism and kindness is something that we will forever cherish. We are so lucky to have the Theatre of Youth here in Buffalo, and the theater is lucky to have you.