Meet Lisa McCusker Sherer – a performer, supermom, lover of the arts and passionate about bringing smiles to children every day. We have known Lisa for many years — performed together onstage at Upper Darby Summer Stage back in the day and have kept in touch over the years. Like many — she’s a hardworking, super proud mother of two amazing kids — who believes in the value of exposing children to performing arts as a fun way to build the value of teamwork, instill self-confidence and self-expression. We think you’ll love her story!
Lisa – thanks a million for participating in our Limelight Interview series. We love your story because it could apply to so many moms and dads who are thinking of how to get their kids involved in activities that work on the inner child. You have a long love-affair with the arts. Whether it is performing or supporting — it’s clear it is important to you. How was this instilled in you?
From an early age I loved TV. I had a wonderful dance teacher who saw I could sing much better than I could dance and took me to the Al Alberts Showcase taping at the ABC Studio on City Line Avenue. I was hooked and knew if my mom could curl my hair, I could be the next Shirley Temple. Al Alberts, is a Philadelphia kids talent show that no one knows of today, unless you are in a certain age group and Shirley Temple who kids are clueless about!
That’s great — and yes — you really do need to be of a certain age to remember Al Alberts. Tell us about your first show. What are your memories of that experience?
My first high school show was at Cardinal O’Hara, my grammar school took a bunch of us kids (I was in 3rd grade) to audition and I was the only blonde princess in the King and I. A classmate who was Asian also was cast and he needed a “traveling buddy” so I got chosen. For the shows I had to shoe polish my hair to look the part.
And that led to your first lead role — what was it and how was that experience?
My first lead was at Upper Darby Summer Stage. I was a Junior in high school and auditioned for the role of “Mrs. Darling” in Peter Pan. I was typing in the theater office and Harry Dietzler (Founder and Director) told me to audition – I got the part and Matt Cloran was my first summer stage director, I did shows in high school but was a chorus girl. It was magical and frightening! I cried on stage I was so scared. Matt told me my solo was amazing and that I had nailed the role as a mom who was worried for her kids. LOL! The 2nd show was a little better! I performed for 4 days and it was awesome!! My confidence grew each show.
We love Matt – doesn’t surprise us that he was so supportive. How did that exposure to the performing arts guide you in your adult life?
Well, for example in my business, I have had to stand in front of several people and give presentations. That takes self-confidence. I have had several jobs over the years where my lessons learned during the summer stage years stuck with me and the confidence was there to “perform” in the corporate world.
So true! We hear that a lot. Let’s change gears to your children — obvious you love them like crazy and are a huge supporter of their endeavors. I heard you once say something along the lines of “exposing my kids to the performing arts was not about encouraging them to be professional actors — but more about giving them critical skills to be successful in any career”. What specifically did you mean there?
To give kids a foundation in the arts in my opinion is priceless. The confidence you see grow, the leadership skills developing over time, even knowing you need the proper diction and enunciation for doing presentations at an early age has given my kids a head start. For example – Matthew, my oldest, was given a ‘job’ in middle school (he attended a private college prep school). During visitation weeks, he was giving tours of the school by 7th grade. The head master told me he was the only boy in the class who did not “grunt” when he spoke. He was able to be a role model for the school during a marketing period which normally is left to adults. You learn loyalty and dedication and a true love of something.
That’s great! Your kids — they do it all — marching band, movies, stage, TV – is it more of a hobby or a passion for them now?
Both! Matthew continues to model and act. He now has his own apartment at 22 years old and auditions for background acting jobs in New York, Baltimore and Philadelphia. He is a waiter during his down time to ‘pay the rent’.
Olivia loves music and has leadership values that will take her to Penn State this fall. One of her college goals is to be “on stage for THON” and to be in a leadership role that will require her to wear a headset and radio while studying business and sports management.
How will this exposure better prepare them for their adult life?
They are both actually shy kids. But because of their love for the arts they step out of their comfort zone once they feel the warmth of the stage lights. Both are responsible and have life skills and leadership skills that were formed during their younger years. They have patience which is rare for kids today. Being on a set for a TV show is very much “hurry up and wait”. I enjoy live stage better, but have done work with Matthew on TV during his younger years. He has more patience than I do while on set!
They often say – the friendships you form in a theatrical show are lifelong. Is that really true? Why are they so lasting in your opinion?
Yes. It’s really true. Being a theater kid is being special. Years ago, you were a geek with nowhere to go — today there are several day camps, summer theater programs all which sell-out because parents realize that importance of the theater — you learn to be in a team, you learn patience and determination. Not everyone wins a lead, you earn it – you learn respect for your fellow cast members and bond to them. Being on a live stage you need to trust the cast and crew around you. I am still friends with my summer stage friends from 1980. Before it was hours worth of telephone calls, now we are all on Facebook and we don’t skip a beat.
You performed in the 40th Anniversary Season at Upper Darby Summer Stage last summer — what was it like getting on that stage again? Were you a bundle of nerves or was it like riding a bicycle?
It was so much fun and just like riding a bike I loved every moment of it. I saw people where conversations picked up where they left off and harmonies that I had not sung in years stuck in my head for weeks after our performances!
It was clear you were having a blast — and you were great in those numbers. What was the role that got away? If you could turn back the hands of time (or even now) — what juicy part would you be sinking your teeth into?
As a kid, it was the role of “Star To Be” in Annie in 1984. You see, this little bratty kid showed up to audition and blew the house down with an amazing set of pipes. To this day, it’s one of my favorite roles, not because I performed it, but because I saw a kid who deserved to have that role and do an amazing job. I have done the show Annie several times, I performed in several different roles but never as “Star To Be”. Oh – and that bratty kid — we formed a friendship that year that has lasted to this day. Now she runs an amazing theatre studio in Chester County!
Hahaha – that is hilarious! Wait until Ann (Ann Pinto McCarney, founder of Limelight Performing Arts Center) reads this — you will surely be getting a phone call.
Let’s talk about your passion with kids. You do some pretty incredible work with the Make-A-Wish Foundation – surely some performing is present when you engage with those courageous children. What skills are you drawing from to succeed in that role?
I perform every time I meet a Wish Child. From wings, to wand, crazy-colored sneakers and of course a tiara. I meet the children either at their homes or in hospitals. My job is to interview them and being the magic of their wishes.
What is the most rewarding part of your work there and how do you remain such a positive light for the kids?
To see the kids’ faces when we return with the paperwork or ‘go light’ for a wish to be fulfilled is amazing. After paperwork, there are still medical approvals that need to be done. My job is to make sure at the initial interview that no matter what the outcome — that day was a fun and exciting day spent dreaming and not thinking about “I’m too sick” for anything. Being with Wish Kids is truly the most amazing, magical, humbling, sad, and frustrating of adventures. No child deserves to have a life-changing illness as a child.
Wow! What a job — and we can’t think of a better person to fill those crazy-colored sneakers and tiara.
Do you have any parting words for moms and dads reading this interview?
I would only say to young parents, don’t miss out on the joys of the world of live theater. My generation is the last generation of “before too much technology” when kids played outside, created shows in the back yard, played house and recreated shows from watching family TV shows that are a lost art. Sports are great, I played softball, my kids played sports but being involved with the arts is so different. It’s magical. So take your kids to see shows, go to see summer theater productions, participate and feel the magic and let it touch the imagination of the next generation.
Love that!!! So true — well thanks Lisa for sharing your thoughts — lots to think about. We understand that directing is your passion these days but we hope to see you back onstage someday soon — maybe at Limelight?!