The 25th Summer at Kids Who Care wasn’t just a birthday it was a passage. Something happened this summer. Something like that first summer in 1989, when we received a standing ovation from a standing room only house; everyone felt it, and then someone was brave enough to call the question, “Now what?” And so in response to that question, what was in our hearts started becoming a tangible thing, step by step, and here we are 25 years later.
To every one of you that has performed on this stage, this is my 25th Summer Message to You:
Although we had talked about the 25th summer for a couple of years, I had no idea how it would feel. The experience of that much love in my heart all surfacing at once has no words. Each year for 25 years, I have spent 11 months out of 12 staring at you on stage; joyfully watching, tweaking, correcting you, your work, your work ethic, but mostly being fed by you. Fed by your performances, your growth, your advice, your response to my work, to our work, for twenty-five years I have most of all adored you.
The first rehearsal that you sat as alums in the middle of the house waiting for blocking from me was horrifying and exhilarating simultaneously. I wasn’t expecting you and there you were; an entire row of my brilliant “children” waiting for direction. I had no plan for you! I was busy preparing your place to step into the light and there you were … early by my watch. But you seemed happy not to have a job. Just to sit in the sweet spot and watch. Take it all in.
Opening night hit with 150 kids preparing to go on stage and a list of 42 guest alums showing up in bits and pieces. I desperately wanted to enjoy it. I knew how special it was. I should be feeling something extraordinary, but I wasn’t. I was standing in the center of it all distracted by the details. “It’s like a wedding and I’m the bride and I can’t find my list,” I said to Andrea. And she knew. I wanted to feel that high moment, but I just felt confused. What in the world am I doing? And then I remembered, I’ve never done this before. Six guest celebs front and center, that’s normal, that’s a tradition. But the front 2 rows filled house right to house left, that’s new!
We created a circle, passed the squeeze, the curtain went up. The audience loved it, I loved it, and then I saw your faces exiting the aisles! There it was. That’s the moment I was looking for! Sheer unbridled joy shared by all of us. The reason for existing!
By Friday we settled in. You sat on stage and told the company why this place was important to you and where you were now. The 5 p.m. to 6 p.m. hour to greet and place alums became this comfortable sweet place. Like chess pieces, we moved you from seat to seat, gave you last minute stage directions and time to run your cameos. It started to feel familiar. Some of you had been with us for a full week by then. You were the glue. It made what happened this summer different. It was like the company had arrived. It was more than creating cameos for our friends.
The Summer Company, and especially the Resident Co., was a bit star struck. You made everyone nervous. Weird, right? There was their history sitting on the front row staring at them. Yep, there you were! The characters in the “tribal stories” we had shared; the original Peter Pan, the real Cowboy, Joseph from the story of “The Wall”. They were excited and in awe, but at the same time sort of freaked out. You had no idea. I witnessed something I’ve never seen before. You were the stars they had heard about and you had come to hang out with them. Very, very cool.
The Saturday morning coffee was a small “State of the Union”. The realization that this small $1,000,000 company had fought for its place in the cultural distract, its’ ownership, and its’ soul, and won! You were introduced to Cruella and The Giant that made us who we are. We celebrated that it has been a joyful, incredible journey, but that tomorrow stands poised waiting for you to affect us!
By Saturday night it had become a collection of my favorite children all in one place doing what we love. The theatre WAS a party! Our pre-curtain speech jumped into the center and we flew! The performances were the best they ever could have been, the audience the most animated. BJ hit a streak in “The Day Dad Made Toast” that was unprecedented, even in his long history of performances with us. I gave him a standing ovation.
Following the performance, we stepped on to a porch filled with birthday cake and candles, food trucks, and the proper volume of music! By 11:30, I found many of you at Conlon’s, our own personal Irish Pub. I witnessed “Differences” like never before and it was my great pleasure to truly toast you!!! Each of you, for believing in what we did once upon a time. By 2, I didn’t really want to head home. Dexter stood with my purse and a gentle look and we left. But not before I spoke to Andrew Shaw, thank you Ky!
By Sunday morning the sound of Moms in my kitchen and Dads setting up tables was as comfy as an old robe. No worries, no façade, no mascara, no lipstick. I intermittently stepped out of my bathroom in various stages of getting ready to direct someone to a cabinet or a dish. Like it was yesterday, these were my dear friends preparing brunch. It was perfect!!! The family connection complete.
Seeing you on my porch, in my front yard, filling my living room again, changed me. It was beyond anything I expected.
☼ To the beloved Kids Who Care Staff… Chad, Kathryn, Billie, Kate, Andrea, Ehleshea, and Zuilma… Thank you! We did it. We properly celebrated.
☼ To our Alums on Staff and the Alum Board Members…Vanessa, Lane, Taylor, Kate, Andrea, Chad… Thank you! I love you dearly.
☼ To Alum Moms who organized brunch, Janet Lanza and Susan Willis…Much love to you.
☼ To Board Member Karen Vermaire Fox…Thank you for the party on the porch. Huge kiss!
☼ To Kate, thank you for insisting I play Grown Up Wendy, and to Chad and Dexter for encouraging me. To Elise, thank you for letting me swish across stage. After 24 years of acting first, followed by 23 years of directing first, and the first 12 years simply playing make believe, it was wonderful to return to the stage. I’ll do it again.
☼ And to All of You, the Alums out there … Thank you for being there. Kiss the ones you love, buy an alum shirt, and get busy. The 50th will be here before we know it!