ELMHURST – Bethany Geraghty, Courtney Knysch and Michael Aguirre grew up in Elmhurst, now act in New York City, and are back in the Chicago area again to perform in the New Light Theater Project’s production of “Still Dance the Stars” at Chicago Dramatists’ theater in the West Loop.
Geraghty takes a leading role as the character Anne, who, along with her husband James, is coping with the stillborn death of their daughter. When James proposed to Anne, he did a flash mob at a local carnival, and the video went viral and the couple become internet celebrities. A reporter is scheduled to interview the couple about their love story “when in fact they’re going through some hard times,” Geraghty said. The carnival stuffed animals that the couple has won over the course of their relationship come to life in the fantasy aspects of the play, she said.
“There’s so much heart and so much joy and so much hope despite this very real baseline of grief and loss and tragedy,” Geraghty said. “The same audience members that I hear them laughing out loud at all these jokes … two scenes later I can hear them sniffing and crying. … It’s just a very special show. The first time I read it, I so desperately wanted to be a part of it.”
As a child, Geraghty performed in York Community High School productions, such as “The Boyfriend,” and remembers the sense of community that surrounded the school’s theater program while she was there – and now Elmhurst residents are coming to her play in downtown Chicago.
“Living in New York [City] is great, and I love it, but it’s just so special to have people who have known me since I was little coming to see this play when they don’t get that chance when I do shows in New York,” she said.
Aguirre plays Phillip, a supporting character who doubles as a former stuffed potato who comes to life as the couple start to communicate through the characters. “It’s always great to come back [to Elmhurst],” Aguirre said. “You always feel like you’re picking up right where you left off. I’ve always loved the people here.”
Geraghty, Aguirre and Knysch all participated in Elmhurst Children’s Theatre and York Community High School productions.
Aguirre said York was “sort of a gateway into exploring more professional shows and deeper shows” than the ones they did as young children.
Aguirre said that teachers and theater directors Rebecca Marianetti and John Forsythe challenged him to grow as an actor and as a person. He said he also tries to see them when he’s in the area.
“They always treated us like adults, and they never treated us like students or like angsty teenagers,” Aguirre said. “They had a certain expectation for how we should behave and present ourselves. They had a certain expectation for our work ethic, for showing up to rehearsal on time, for doing our job. It wasn’t just an extracurricular activity for them. They expected us to present ourselves with this material and take it seriously. And that type of expectation you always wanted to meet or even exceed their expectations. They treated us like adults. We certainly wanted to act like it.”
Knysch also helped choreograph dances and assisted in directing several plays at York when she was a student there.
“Theater’s so much more than just being on stage and taking a bow,” Knysch said. “It’s like all of the little pieces that kind of have to come together in order for a production to truly become magical.”
In “Still Dance the Stars,” Knysch plays the wife’s sister, Ashley, and Ash, the thingus toy that comes alive in the fantastical aspect of the play to represent Ashley.
“It’s a really beautiful script,” she said. “Jayme [McGhan, the playwright] has really explored how difficult it can be to get to the truth of something sometimes. It’s been a real joy being part of making that come to life.”
Knysch said that risk-taking is inherent in theatrical work, and she said she learned how to trust others and to handle that fear of making mistakes at York and the Elmhurst Children’s Theatre.
“It’s not about you. It’s about the story and it’s about the people you’re telling the story with,” she said. “And if you always keep that in mind, it makes the whole process better for everyone.”
If you go
What: “Still Dance the Stars”
When: 7:30 p.m. Sept. 8, 9, 12, 14, 15; 2 and 6 p.m. Sept. 10
Where: Chicago Dramatists, 1105 W. Chicago Ave., Chicago
Cost: $25 to $35 for individual, $20 to 30 group tickets (10 people minimum for group)