As has been the case for the past three decades, dozens of children and numerous high-school and adult volunteers have been busy this summer, working to put together the latest production from Woodstock Children’s Summer Theatre.
This year, it’s “Madagascar – A Musical Adventure Jr.” As always, the show promises to be lots of fun, but this production also will be a little bittersweet, because when the curtain falls on the final performance, it will mark the end of an era for WCST.
Four leaders for the long-running children’s theater group will be retiring from their volunteer positions at the close of this year’s production. Choreographer Christine Connell, director Sue Kazlusky, musical director Anita Tebo and technical director Mary Fetzner — whose combined experience with WCST totals 70 years — are stepping down from their roles.
“We all still have the energy, but you’ve got to know when to fold them,” said Tebo.
The summer children’s theater group, which produces shows that not only appeal to kids, but also feature child performers, started about 29 years ago, although organizers agree the exact date it was formed seems to be lost to history.
The four leaders share a strong bond of friendship and enjoy working together. They all started at WCST at different times, with Kazlusky having volunteered the longest, at 23 years.
“We decided it was a package deal,” Connell said, meaning the choreographer and directors would stick together and agree to retire at the same time.
“It was a hard decision, but we knew it was time,” Kazlusky said.
As retired teachers, Kazlusky and Fetzner said the program has always been their outlet for getting a “kid-fix” during the summer. Tebo, a private piano instructor, echoed that sentiment, saying her involvement satisfied her theater-fix each year. Connell has a current connection to students as an English and theater teacher at Marian Central Catholic High School, but she enjoys summer theater as well.
“Besides my family, [WCST] combines the three things I love: kids, music and theater,” said Tebo. “We’ve shared some very cool moments.”
“It’s been pretty special,” said Kazlusky.
To make the transition as seamless as possible – especially for the children and families – the team initiated a three-year transition, securing new volunteers and working together with them through a production. Next year, the veteran team will continue to be available to mentor the incoming leadership.
Going forward, WCST will be led by three people with strong ties to music and theater in the community. The director will be Kate Griffith; musical director, Carrie Filetti; and choreographer, Billy Seger.
The role of tech director has not yet been filled.
Griffith and Seger are alumni of WCST, and Filetti is a music teacher at Northwood Middle School. Griffith currently teaches English and theater at Marengo High School, and Seger is a professional director and choreographer.
This year’s show is an adaptation of the DreamWorks animated motion picture “Madagascar.” It’s the story of five animals from New York’s Central Park Zoo who accidentally end up on the island of Madagascar with a group of penguins. The show delivers the overlying message of trust between friends and the value of sticking together.
“It’s a very aerobic show,” said Kazlusky. “It’s upbeat with lots of singing and dancing … the costumes are fun and funky.”
The sets are minimal, but the crew describes it as a very visual show. Colorful backdrops – funded by donations from The Backdrop and Friends of the Opera House – enhance the experience.
“There are a lot of talented kids in this town,” said Connell.