Though it was a standing-room-only crowd for the first Pine Island Playhouse performance, Brodin Butler, 9, denied any stage fright. After all, participating in this event required Butler to lumber across the stage like a zombie. And zombie walking happened to be a skill he perfected at home, long before the performance.
Butler's older brother, Randolph Butler, 11, had a more stressful role. At one point during the performance, he played a zombie. But later, he was cast as a pirate. His level of concentration was a bit more demanding than his younger brother's, but the older brother took it all in stride.
"It was my first time, actually, to be up there and to do something so free," Randolph Butler said. "Most of the time, you don't get the chance to get up on a stage and just do whatever you want."
More than 25 members of SAS took their bow under the stage lights after participating in an event with Pine Island Playhouse.
This was not Heidi Hansen's first appearance under the big lights. Before joining this group, which is sponsored by Beacon of H.O.P.E., nine-year-old Hansen danced in a ballet recital.
Being onstage at the Pine Island United Methodist Church was not a problem, she said. Smiling confidently, she performed for the crowded audience. Video cameras and frequent flashes from cameras didn't jar this budding star, either.
"Doing a play gives you a way to experience your emotional feelings," Hansen said as she presented a piece of lined notebook paper with her first name scrawled across it in fancy cursive writing. "I wasn't nervous, really. Hey, do you want my autograph?"
Nicole Pichon, volunteer art director for the Pine Island Playhouse, said she was thrilled to see 28 third to fifth graders from Pine Island Elementary School leave the stage with such confidence. Performers in the play are also members of Students Achieving Success, (S.A.S), another program developed by Beacon of H.O.P.E.
With only a small amount of encouragement, SAS members wrote their own parts for the play, entitled "SAS, the Mentors and the Cabinet." The production was a take off from "The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe," with Betsy Haesemeyer serving as the producer. Volunteer, Rebecca Rose, was stage manager. Mel Meo volunteered skills as the scenic artist while Troy Melvin took on the role of student director.
Two additional volunteer mentors, Greg Lignelli and Nick Mohar, remained on stage during the play, quietly reminding actors whose turn it was to physically crawl through a cabinet door to enter a pretend world. Creative energy ran rampant during the performance, from walking, talking ingredients of a pizza to a shark and his prey. Some dancers, a couple of leprechauns and peanut better with her good friend, jelly, reminded adults of how vivid untethered imagination can be.
Pichon, who studied Theater Education and Design & Technology, relocated to the area last August with her husband, Paul Pichon, also a volunteer. She enjoys living closer to family members but also is committed to providing theatrical experiences for Pine Island residents, Pichon said.
"The kids got to be very creative and kind of silly, too, during the play," She said. "They also practiced great skills, like speaking in front of an audience. These experiences help build confidence, too."
By late August, Pichon will schedule auditions for the production of, "Little Women," authored by Louisa Mae Alcott. Island residents of all ages are encouraged to get involved. Actors aren't the only necessity. Set designers, producers, lighting crew members and many other helpers are needed. Contact Pichon: firstname.lastname@example.org