ELMHURST – Masses of children from 8 to 18 scurry through the hallway behind Timothy Christian School’s Huizenga Auditorium, crowns, flower pots and even an oil funnel bobbing on their heads while Dorothy Foster organizes “The Wizard of Oz” cast for their first stage rehearsal.
“I started as a parent volunteer,” said Foster, who now produces the DuPage Spotlight Youth Theater shows.
Four years ago, her daughters auditioned to be in a children’s theater show and fell in love with the stage.
“Once we did one show, my kids were hooked,” said Foster.
The Christian nonprofit has 11 programs that put on three productions every year. Children can audition for a show if they take classes at Spotlight, and classes start for kids as young as 5 years old.
The Oz cast has been rehearsing twice a week for eight weeks and every night this week in preparation for their 10 performances, which begin tonight.
“People come to our shows and say it was like going downtown to see a show,” Foster said.
Family volunteers are responsible for full sets, costumes, hair and make-up for each production.
While every child performer has at least one family member working to put together each elaborate production, some volunteers no longer have children in the program, but develop a bond with Spotlight.
Foster’s oldest daughter didn’t audition for Oz because she’s currently working on a show with her high school.
“It’s also about the people,” said Alicen Baumgarten, 16, of Elmhurst. “Everyone is wonderful.”
While she plans to pursue a career in dance, possibly teaching, Baumgarten, who is homeschooled, thinks the friends she’s made through her seven Spotlight shows might be the best part. Her 15-year-old brother, Edward, who enjoys singing, decided to try out for that very reason.
“I saw how many friends she gained,” Edward said.
With daily rehearsals and the pressure of opening night upon her, Alex Lyons, 16, of Lombard admits managing her time between Spotlight and school can be a challenge, but the hours she spends rehearsing are some of the most enjoyable.
“My favorite is probably rehearsals because that’s when we get to know everybody and that’s when we get to make friends and spend time together,” Lyons said.
Maddie Johnson, 13, of Elmhurst has been taking Spotlight classes since she was 5, and Oz will be her 11th show with the organization. She calls the Spotlight cast and crew “a giant family.”
While the nonprofit is Christian, all kids are welcome to join classes and all Spotlight students can audition for upcoming shows.
Spotlight rents its performance venues and the cast began transferring their hard work and scenery to the Huizenga Auditorium stage just this week, but everyone worked together to prepare for opening night.
Veronica Brozovic, 18, of Lombard, said she looks most forward to the show nights.
“Then we get to see everything come together,” Brozovic said.
While his sister likes opening night, Edward would chose another performance as his favorite after the weeks of practicing songs and dances.
“Closing night, definitely,” said Edward. “That’s the best show, highest energy of the crowd.”