Limelight is looking forward to our upcoming professional and student productions of “The Wizard of Oz“. We have already cast the professional production and we are excited to see this cast come to life! Auditions for the student productions will take place on Sunday, January 29th. Please e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.
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?!
Meet Rebecca Stern!
Meet Rebecca Stern! A familiar face at Limelight – an extremely versatile actress in a variety of mediums who is enthusiastic, focused and hard-working with talent galore and best of all — one of the friendliest kids you will ever meet. She has graced our stage in such roles as Annie (Annie), Flounder (The Little Mermaid) and most recently as Jojo (in Limelight’s recent professional production of Seussical) — but wait until you see what other cool things she’s accomplished at such a young age. Enjoy getting to know this terrific young lady — she’s a favorite for sure!
Tell us about your experience playing Jojo in the professional production of Seussical?
My experience playing JoJo in the professional production of Seussical was one of the best experiences of my life, onstage and off. I loved playing the role because it can be interpreted many different ways. It was also amazing being able to work with such talented and kind professionals. I loved everyone in the cast and it was definitely a huge bonding experience for the kids. There were a lot of laughs and I looked forward to every rehearsal. When the weekend when I was playing JoJo was over I was sad, but it was a lot of fun seeing my friends do the role how they envisioned it. I miss it tremendously and I loved every minute of it.
That’s great and you did an awesome job — a true pro on your own but what was the single most thing you learned working with those talented professionals?
Thank you! The biggest thing I learned from the professional actors was to try anything to the biggest level you can. When Chad (Director) asked them to try doing something differently, they completely went for it and changed their whole performance of that particular scene or song. It was amazing how they were never nervous about how they looked to the other cast members and just went for it. I strive to do what they made look easy.
What a great lesson so early in your career. Who is your role model today — both onstage and off?
My role model has to be Amanda Jane Cooper. She is a phenomenal actress who went to my high school, Great Valley, and then graduated from Carnegie Mellon with a degree in Musical Theater. She is currently playing Glinda in the National Tour of Wicked for the second time. She has been in many TV shows and it is so cool that she went to my high school. She has many accomplishments on stage, but she is also one of the nicest people offstage as well. When I was doing Annie at Limelight, she gave me a lesson to help me prepare for the show. She was so helpful and kind and even sent a follow-up email wishing me good luck and vocal exercises. She is definitely my role model.
You are so lucky to have a trusting mentor. Let’s change gears – What Broadway musical is the most heavily played in your song list lately?
I have to say Into the Woods or Beauty and the Beast. I love the music in Beauty and the Beast and I am so excited to participate in Into the Woods for Limelight’s middle school spring show. I have definitely been singing those shows around the house constantly.
Tell our young readers why you think participating in the performing arts is beneficial to their overall character.
When I was younger, I was shy and not very confident. My mom had me audition for my first student film on a whim because she saw it late at night and thought it looked cool. I became obsessed with performing and the more projects I did, the more confident I became. The more auditions I went on, the less scared I became at the next one. I believe that participating in the performing arts gives kids a stronger voice and more confidence. If you can sing in front of an audience of 100 people, then you feel much more comfortable asking a question in class. Some of my best friends are involved in musical theater, and they have shaped me. Some of the best people you will ever meet are musical theater people. If I had not done that student film and started my journey of performing, I can guarantee, I would not be the person I am today.
Wow – that’s fantastic… and it’s not just theatre for you — you have branched out into voiceover and industrial film work — how has that experience been and what else is on your bucket list?
It has been really fun doing voiceover and commercials. I love doing voiceovers because I am on the taller side for my age but I have a younger voice so I can play someone much younger. I was able to do many commercial voiceovers for Playmobil, which has been amazing and crazy for me to hear my voice on television and during the holiday season to see my Playmobil® video displayed at Toys R Us! I also sang the remake of “Number 9 Martian Beauty” renamed “A Real Martian Beauty” for Sesame Street. It aired on an episode called Abby’s Too Cool for School and when the episode aired, the song was on TV. It is on Sesame Street’s You Tube channel as well. I was shocked to hear my voice on Sesame Street. It was an amazing experience and I learned that it takes a huge team of people and a lot of work to make one music video. They had to make a puppet for the song and I had to go into New York City twice to record. It was over a year until the episode premiered. On my bucket list are more professional theater productions and more non-voiceover commercials and TV shows.
So awesome and such an iconic show as Sesame Street – what a great experience. You are a very versatile performer — is there one area you feel deserves more attention for further education and development?
Thanks! I feel I would like to put more attention and development on dancing. I currently take only Tap, but I feel that I should educate myself in more musical theater dance and other styles. I have taken Ballet, Tap, and Modern dance classes for years, but I now am just focusing on Tap because it fit into my schedule the best. I also would love to take Improv and other Acting classes.
You know what they say — try to be as well-rounded as you can — all of those classes are building your overall talent. They also say the best experience is to audition a lot — how often are you out there “pounding the pavements” looking for that next part?
I completely agree. The more auditions you go on, the better you get at them. I would say around 10 auditions a year. They are a mix of commercial, film, and theater auditions. Lately I have been doing mostly theater auditions.
Quickly – what is your dream role?
I can’t decide between Belle in Beauty and the Beast and Gertrude in Seussical! I love Belle and she is my favorite Disney® Princess. I like how she is such an avid reader and challenges the life that others have imagined for her. I also love Gertrude because she seems like she would be a really fun role to put your own spin on. She has a lot of funny lines and allows the actress who is playing her get goofy and awkward and have a great time.
I can totally see you being great in both roles. Is performing something you see yourself doing as a hobby as you get older or something you want to really pursue as your career?
That’s a hard question! I love performing, but I am also really into engineering and robotics. At this point in my life, I think I will stick to performing as a hobby, or maybe double major in engineering and performing arts. I would love to be a vocal teacher and help other kids get to their maximum potential. My vocal teacher, Susan Brizick, is amazing and I would like to teach voice to kids just like her.
Sounds perfect! What is on the near horizon for you?
Coming up soon for me is the auditions for Into the Woods, Jr. with Limelight! I am so excited to be in this amazing show! I have a lot of friends participating, so I think it will be a lot of fun!
Thanks Becca for taking the time to talk with us — something tells me we will only see bigger and brighter things for you in the years ahead. Keep smiling and laughing too because the fun is in the journey!
She’s a singer, dancer and actress extraordinaire… and she’s only in 4th grade! Lauren has been keeping busy with performing at Limelight – it’s all about Seussical lately– first playing in the professional production, the kids cast and then starring as Jojo in the High School production…that’s a lot of Seuss!
Lauren brings such a fresh enthusiasm to performing – we thought you’d love to read about this sweet and energetic young lady – enjoy!
Lauren – thanks for taking the time be interviewed for our “You In The Spotlight” blog series. You are fresh off the heels of Limelight’s professional production of Seussical The Musical. Lots of rehearsal and 3 weekends of shows — you must be exhausted. Was it a lot of work or a lot of fun for you to be in that production?
It was definitely tons of fun. At times it was tiring and a lot of hard work. We rehearsed every Sunday for months for nine hours so some of the Mondays I was very cranky. But at the end it was all worth it!
What is the single most thing you miss the most about it being over?
I really miss the cast! I learned so much from rehearsing with the grownups and the older kids. We were together a lot so all the kids in the ensemble became really good friends. I still talk to the kids and we are hoping to get together soon for a reunion. I don’t miss the Seussical script and songs though because now I am rehearsing for January’s Seussical Kids (grades 1-5) as a Bird Girl and Seussical, Jr.(high school) as JoJo! I am really excited to be Jojo! That’s a lot of Seuss!
Tell us about the first time you knew you wanted to be onstage performing before a live audience. What was it that inspired you to say “I want to do that!”
Well, I started dance classes when I was 2.5 years old so I was on stage for many Christmas shows and recitals. I always loved to sing, dress up and pretend but I didn’t do any theatre stuff. When I went to my first West Chester Summer Stage audition I was really nervous but I got a part and I was very excited to see what it was like. I LOVED West Chester Summer Stage and that’s when I got the acting bug. So I guess I’d say WCSS and Mrs. McCarney inspired me.
You have such a spark on stage – I remember your performance as Ariel in The Little Mermaid – you really seemed to understand the character and it shined off of your face. You were wonderful in that role — how was that overall experience for you?
Thanks! Well, of course Mermaid was an awesome experience for me! I felt the pressure at times during practices but the other kids and Mrs. McCarney made me feel better. We would work together as a team and I think we did a great show.
How did you prepare for the auditions for that part? Were you surprised when you saw you were cast in the lead role?
When I have an audition coming up I sing the songs and practice the lines over and over and over. I practice so much that my brothers throw me out of the room! But it is so much fun to practice and I get so excited to audition. When I found out I was Ariel I was in shock! I couldn’t believe that I was Ariel after all those years of pretending to be a princess.
Tell us about the favorite roles you played or productions you were in and what you learned about yourself while performing in them.
I loved being an angel in the Nutcracker at the Rock School West. I haven’t really had time to do it again but I hope to some Christmas soon. I am finally old enough to be in the talent show at school this year too so I am looking forward to that.
What roles do you hope to play one day if given the opportunity? What is it about those roles that interest you?
I would love to be Annie someday. She is very feisty and I like that she can light up a room with a song. I would also love to be Little Red Riding Hood from Into the Woods because the songs are amazing. I never saw the play but I loved the movie. I cannot wait to see the professional version of Into The Woods at Limelight. I think Mrs. McCarney will be the perfect witch!
We often hear that young people who participate in performing arts helps to build confidence and improve school grades because it requires you to manage your time wisely, be accountable for meeting deadlines, speak in front of others, working with a team, etc. — can you say you have seen any improvement as a result of you being involved in the performing arts?
Being involved in theatre has helped me in many ways. I am more confident to do speeches or read in school. I also play the flute, basketball and take two dances classes each week so I am pretty busy. But I like busy – I get bored easily! I definitely have learned that I need to plan out my homework and projects around preparing for and going to Limelight classes or rehearsals.
What is your favorite part of performing — acting, singing, dancing? What comes easiest and what comes hardest?
I definitely like singing the best because it comes easy to me. I find the acting part the hardest because I always get nervous about missing a cue or forgetting lines and messing up who goes next. There was this one line in Mermaid that I always messed up. I’d go over it a hundred times but I think I’d get so nervous that I was going to mess it up that I couldn’t think straight. So of course I messed it up and I messed up King Triton —but we recovered.
Why do you think it is important as a young person to constantly challenge yourself and learn new skills?
I think it helps me to grow up! As I do new things in theatre or in anything I like, that new skill helps me get one step further. So all those little skills I learn along the way get me ready for the next thing I think is a big deal at that time.
Tell us what Broadway musical you are singing all the time lately? Is it your all-time fave?
I was singing songs from the Secret Garden because I had a couple of auditions last month but now I am back to singing Seuss all day. Seuss is definitely my fave right now!
I was really surprised to learn you have a hearing impairment. Most would think it’s hard to sing and act with this but obviously you don’t have any difficulty do you?
Yes, I am 100% deaf in my left ear. Many people do not know I have a hearing problem until they go to whisper in my ear. It’s kind of funny because they look at me like …What? Huh!? The inside of my left ear is shaped differently which causes the hearing problem but I am lucky because most people that have this problem have it in BOTH ears! We didn’t know that I had a problem until I was almost four. Apparently one day in the movie theater (during the Princess and the Frog) my mom was whispering in my ear about popcorn and I told her angrily to “use the other ear”! My parents said it was scary at first but they say it didn’t and still hasn’t really caused many problems for me. My mom always says my right ear is “supersonic” because I hear everything even when she’s whispering! HA! I have learned that I really need to pay attention in certain places like in class, near traffic, in the gym when playing basketball and places like that. I have worked with hearing teachers who taught me not to be shy about asking for things to be repeated or for a better seat so I can hear better. Sometimes it bothers me and I wish I could hear better but when I think about kids who have so many other BIG problems than I know I am lucky it’s only an ear!
Thanks so much for sharing that information as well as sharing your love for the arts with us! Thank you, this was fun!
Well there you have it folks – come see Lauren as Jojo at Limelight Performing Arts Center – this girl is going to be a big star one day – get your chance while you can .
Meet Nora Fitzgerald – currently knocking our socks off as Amazing Mayzie in our professional production of Seussical The Musical.
Nora – Thanks for taking the time to allow us to learn more about you and your love for the performing arts. Honestly, you do it all — actress, choreographer, dancer, director — tell us what you are working on today.
Well, after taking a break from performing for several years, I am finding my voice again–Literally! The voice is a muscle and I gotta get back in the gym! Being a part of Seussical at Limelight has been a fun challenge. After directing/choreographing students for so long, it has been a humbling experience stepping into the student/performer role again!
Let’s talk about your performing life first – Tell us about your start — how old, dancing, acting?
I started dancing when I was four, continuing into high school taking ballet and jazz. My first show was Bye Bye Birdie in sixth grade. I joined the musical because my older sister did it and I wanted to be like her. I was in the ensemble but then got to play the part of Margie one of the two nights because two girls skipped rehearsal one day to go watch a volleyball match and as punishment, one of their performances was taken away. We had more auditions and I got the part. At age 11, it was terrifying. We didn’t have many body mics then so the song was done with hand mics. We had to hand it off after each solo. I only had two lines, trembled through each one and then it was over. My first night in the spotlight was pretty anticlimactic.
Not to mention terrifying. What are some of your favorite roles or memories from stage performing?
After college, I got to perform with some of my dearest friends from school for several years. We all stayed in the area and auditioned for the same shows. Favorite roles would be Velma in Chicago (twice–I loved it that much) and Anita in West Side Story. Also, my first big role was Winifred in Once Upon a Mattress in eighth grade so that will always hold a special place in my heart.
That’s great – What do you love the most? What is your true north when it comes to performing arts?
I truly love directing and choreographing teens. It is such a vulnerable age. I enjoy challenging them with movement and encouraging them to be brave, giving themselves permission to make choices that are not always comfortable in “real” life.
Let’s not forget your commercial acting career — you seem to be on every channel some days — how fun is that?
Commercial acting is a totally different medium and often looks more “glamorous” on screen than it is behind the scenes. Working in front of the camera taught me a lot about myself and gave me valuable experience to share with my students.
How did you know it was time to jump back in — besides knowing you’d be in the company of some of Philly’s finest?
When the notice came out that Limelight was doing an adult production, I hoped I’d have the chance to be part of something professional where I might have the opportunity to grow. I find as I get older that I welcome moments in which I can be a student again!
Every actor has a story — what was the funniest thing that ever happened to you on stage — planned or unplanned?
This is a tough one. There’s always so many stories, which one to choose? I guess one of the funniest things that happened was at Three Little Baker’s Dinner Theatre. I was a swing for the Easter Show. This means you understudy several roles and are ready to go on for any of them at any time. We knew I was going on for one girl who was going to miss a show so there was an understudy rehearsal ahead of time. I knew the general blocking and dance steps but I never had the opportunity to run the show with full tech—sets, props, lights. I got through the whole show with some lip syncing and faking of steps. The other actors push you around too if you are not sure where you are supposed to be. Just keep a smile on your face and the audience won’t notice. So we get to the last big finale number—an Irvin Berlin tribute. The girls are wearing long gowns with gloves and little black bob wigs and the men in tails and top hats. We hit our end pose and I think I made it, I’m in the clear. Baker’s stage was a very large thrust stage that had audience on three sides. I am all the way downstage at the edge. The furthest down you can be from the back of the stage. I am leaning in a pose extending my leg and leaning back with my hand flexed in my “tah-dah” pose. I smile and hold waiting for the final blackout. And wait. And smile. And wait. I start to subtly peek over my shoulder and see the stage has cleared. No one told me there is no black out and I have been holding my final pose and smiling for what felt like forever. Even the audience applause has started to fade, probably wondering why this girl is still standing on stage and what she is going to do. So I make a dramatic, intentional turn around and take my very long walk to exit the stage. At the same time the “host” of the show comes on stage clapping and thanking the audience and laughing as he looks to me and gives me an extra clap and thank you for my extraordinary exit.
Nora – that is both hilarious and horrifying at the same time — thanks for sharing that with us. Let’s change gears a little – I know you have a special affiliation with Dance – including forming your own dance company, Confidance®. How frustrating and rewarding has that endeavor been?
Thank you yes, I believe that everyone can dance. It can bring so much joy and release and does not have to look a certain way. Starting my own business has been a mix of emotions. I have many days when I say, “Why on earth did I do this?” and many days when that question is answered and I feel great about the positive influence I am trying to bring to my world. After one school visit I received a handwritten letter from a seventh grader that said, “We haven’t been together long but you made the biggest boost in my confidence. You are forever in my heart.” These are the moments that make it all worth it.
What is your philosophy when teaching dance?
Positivity and encouragement. If you don’t know the step, make it up and make it your own.
With respect to your directing career — every Director has their favorites – Tell us about your favorite directing experiences with your students?
Pippin and Kander and Ebb’s The World Goes Round with Twisted Art summer theatre program in West Chester were the first two shows I directed/choreographed with teens. I remember how much time and creativity I enjoyed putting into the productions. I never thought I would be interested in directing but all it took was an opportunity and I fell in love with the process! More recently my shows at Rustin High School have been my favorites specifically Les Miserables, which is probably the largest production I have ever put together and Peter Pan cause it was just so much imagination and fun.
At our West Chester Summer Stage program — you choreographed the Mainstagers for a few years. A program where teens literally put a full blown musical on its feet in roughly two weeks. What has that experience been like?
Awesome. The students come in with such enthusiasm and energy. It’s exhausting for sure but incredible how hard everyone works with the same goal of creating a major production in record time. I am always so impressed with how quickly the students memorize lines, learn dance moves and how dedicated the production team is to making it the best experience possible.
Tell us about your bucket list — the roles you want to perform, the shows you want to direct, the dances you want to choreograph.
I would love to play Janet in The Drowsy Chaperone and Kari in the play The Pavilion by Craig Wright. I always wanted to Direct/Choreograph Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat for teens because it was my favorite show as a teenager.
Clearly some great choices there for sure. What’s on your horizon — after Seussical – what do you have in store?
I recently received my 200 hour Yoga Teacher Training certificate and am currently teaching Vinaysa Flow yoga at Simply Yoga in Exton. I also teach a program called Let Your Yoga Dance® at the Yoga Barn in Kennett Square that combines yoga, dance and breath. I have taken a great interest in my own well-being and helping others to find their strongest self. I plan to use my training and Confidance® program to travel more and spread the joy!
Thanks again for sharing your experiences and wisdom — our young readers in particular will find this most helpful. In the meantime —break a leg on the Seussical The Musical – with only two weekends remaining. You are awesome in the show and your hard work has really paid off.
Tickets for this family friendly production can be purchased online at www.limepac.com – I encourage you to get your tickets today to see Nora and the rest of this amazing cast!
Please Meet the Incomparable William Mayo
He is the Vocal Instructor at Limelight Performing Arts Center. Bill goes way back with Limelight’s owner Ann Pinto McCarney – in fact he was once her vocal instructor many moons ago. Bill is a busy guy — a member of the professional actors union (AEA), a member of the Temple University Voice Faculty, a voice teacher at Limelight, and the Musical Director at our West Chester Summer Stage and Limelight PAC. He is also at a handful of other theatres where he puts his best talent to use, teaching, motivating and inspiring voice students to reach their absolute best in voice performance. Bill has such a wealth of experience and we just had to share it with you all. Enjoy!
You have been teaching voice for many years and it is clearly obvious the joy you have with instructing your students — what is the most exciting part of vocal instruction?
Actually, the reward for me is two fold: Providing a beginning student with an informative start on how voice production takes place in their own voice and leading a student to an “ah-ha” moment in their singing.
How old were you when you started to sing and when you knew this would be a lifelong passion?
I actually came late to singing compared to some students. I entered college on a trumpet scholarship and after my first semester, I realized that I had a voice and that I wanted to pursue it.
When you were a young singer — did you have any mentors or instructors that really impacted your approach or philosophy to singing?
Yes, the organist at my second professional church singing job became a lifelong musical mentor and friend. He was a Curtis Institute of Music graduate and was and still is inspirational concerning voice and music.
Tell us about your credentials and education for teaching.
I currently have a Master’s Degree in Opera Theater and a Professional Certificate in Vocal Performance. I lived, studied and performed in NYC for ten years before coming back to Philadelphia and teaching in the Voice Department of Temple University which I’ve done for the past 30 years.
What a great accomplishment! Share with us some of the highlights of your own signing career?
While in New York City I premiered several new compositions for voice, opera and oratorio. I sang for two years on the National Tour of the historic Men of Song. We were a quartet of professional singers who backed up one of the leading Bassos at the Metropolitan Opera. In those two years I believe I sang in all five provinces of Canada all but four states of the United States. After I returned to Philadelphia, I had the honor of auditioning and being chosen to sing at Vice President Biden’s father’s funeral. I then sang for his mother’s 90th birthday party two years before she passed. That was quite an honor.
Wow – what an honor indeed! What can a prospective student expect to learn while under your vocal instruction?
I teach all of my students how their voice works, all three aspects: Breathing, phonation or making sound and resonation, the natural amplification of the human voice. I also include musicianship, style, diction and posture and song presentation.
What are the top 2-3 things you see today’s singers doing that are not healthy for their voices?
Young singers for the most part, don’t see the relevance of connecting breath support with the act of singing. Young female singers, try so hard to mimic the current female singing stars that all they want to do is use their “belt voices” often disregarding the need to develop their “head voices.” For me, those two items are truly the main issues. You MUST develop the whole voice not just part of it.
Good point! On that note — what tips do you prescribe to your students to protect their voice?
First and foremost, study voice privately so that you can learn how your voice actually works. Avoid screaming and talking too much. Singers must monitor the use of their voice and take care of it. Also, sleep. Young singers need plenty of sleep.
You spend quality time with your students teaching them to breathe and sing properly — why is that so important and how do you keep the student interested when all they want to do is sing?
You develop the technique of singing so that your voice will be free enough to tell stories by way of the music. The better your vocal technique, the freer you are as a performer to tell your story through song. I always try to give students songs that are just in reach of the level of their technique.
I love that — “the better your vocal technique — the freer you are as a performer to tell your story through song”! I know you are all about helping students characterize their songs — what are some of the ways you instruct your students when preparing for an audition?
All songs are stories. If there weren’t any melody, the words would probably be a monologue or a scene with other characters. Singers have to treat their songs as if they WERE monologues with emotional levels and a beginning, middle and an end. We also talk about the emotional design of a song. Rarely is the character in a song just ONE emotion throughout the whole song. Just like a spoken acting seen, the song takes the singer through a range of human emotion and these shifts MUST be identified in the song. You just can’t sing pretty notes!!
I have read articles in the past where business executives will take singing/vocal lessons as a means to improve the strength of their speaking voice — projecting, enunciating, breathing — the works. As a result — some execs have described improvements in their posture and body language when speaking in front of large groups as an added benefit. How often do you hear students share with you the benefits of lessons in their personal/business life aside from just improvements when singing?
Often. The study of vocal presentation benefits everyone in every capacity. I have worked with CEO’s, teachers, actors, public speakers, students and people from all walks of life. Your voice is one of the most PERSONAL unique “identities” a person owns. Using your voice with quality and confidence promotes assurance and positivity in everything we do. I believe we ALL benefit from speaking and carrying ourselves in a positive manner!
From a performing perspective — explain the joy you get when teaching a student during the entire cycle — from struggling to get the lyrics and notes correct to belting out the big number with full confidence on stage?
The satisfaction of helping a young singer develop confidence while performing is immense for me. It’s why I’ve been doing this for over 30 years. There is no nobler aspiration that I can think of than wanting to be a “teller of stories.” Creating ART raises the HUMANITY of all communities and enhances the dignity of ALL human beings. I can’t imagine doing anything else.
There you have it folks – some sage advice and tips from the Master himself… Thanks Bill for sharing – hoping we will see you onstage very soon sharing your vocal talents as well. Hmmm – maybe something at Limelight perhaps?
It’s Thank You Thursday — Tinkerbell Style!
It is time to thank some very special people again, folks who have been big supporters of Limelight – our great friends the McCusker-Sherer family.
Our relationship goes way back – Ann attended Prendie H.S. with Lisa and they shared several years together at Upper Darby Summer Stage, too. Over the years the arts kept them in touch – with Lisa working a season at our West Chester Summer Stage and her son Matt participating in several productions that Ann directed and produced. In fact – Matt was a huge help last year when we went through the exhausting task of moving 15 years worth of costumes, scenery, set pieces, props and other theatre stuff to our new location. On days like that — you need all the help you can get and when a big, 6’4″, strong young man with endless energy arrives to help — you are grateful to have him there and we certainly appreciated his eagerness and enthusiasm (did we mention he is also a model and actor?).
Lisa has always been a huge advocate for the arts in many ways. She’s a great supporter of people in general — always there to cheer you on and give you that friendly push to do your best. When we opened the doors at Limelight – Lisa and her husband Stephen (who also shares the same gift of helping others) were at our sides with lots of encouragement and support. They jumped at the chance to fund one of our studio classrooms, Lisa chose the Peter Pan theme and our talented scenic designer, Peggy Fotusky came through with the design — they made a great team. We absolutely LOVE the embellished classroom. Please swing by the studio and —check it out yourself.
Much thanks to Lisa, Stephen, Matt and Liv for your continued love, support, encouragement and being a champion of the arts. You all have such a wonderful “service to others” mentality which makes us proud to be in your company!
It’s THANK YOU THURSDAY!
Seussical Studio Dedicated to Nick Mullin
We would like to thank some very special people for supporting Limelight. When we began our GoFundMe campaign last year our dear friends made some very thoughtful contributions. We are eternally grateful and to show our appreciation we dedicated space in our Performing Arts Center and our set designer, Peggy Fotusky, really outdid herself with her design and beautiful artwork.
Tom and Dee Mullin’s son Nick was involved in our West Chester Summer Stage Program during his battle with cancer. Despite his struggles, he lit up our stage with his huge talent and a smile that inspired everyone he encountered. One of our studios is now dedicated to Nick – a beautiful tribute to him and the show Seussical he starred in (in fact – we are proud to display his unicycle and red converse sneakers that he used in our production). It is our privilege to honor Nick and his courageous parents who are succeeding at keeping his memory strong and making a difference through their Nick Smiles on the Arts Foundation.
Honestly – the pictures don’t do the studio justice – we encourage you to visit our performing arts center and see this studio for yourself – it’s a great place for learning. Thanks Mullins for allowing us to share Nick’s story with our students and for your continuous loyalty and support of Limelight!
For more information on the Nick Smiles on the Arts Foundation and the wonderful causes it supports – please visit: www.nicksmiles.org
For more information on Limelight Performing Arts Center –please visit: www.limepac.com
Meet Chad Parsons!
A talented Philadelphia actor, director and acting teacher – Chad keeps himself busy with his own personal artistic endeavors as well as enriching the talents of our students in various acting and musical theater classes at Limelight. In addition – he has directed many shows at both Limelight and our own West Chester Summer Stage. His high energy, big smile and enthusiasm for working with his cast and students sets him apart – he truly wants each actor to reach their absolute best performance in every single production. We found it only fitting to let Chad “Step Into The Limelight” – we hope you learn a thing or two from this veteran performer. Enjoy!
Welcome Chad! You might be one of the busiest Actors/Directors in the Philly area – what are you working on now?
I am currently Directing Seussical The Musical here at Limelight and I couldn’t be more excited. Last year was an incredible first season with Broadway Bound, Annie Jr., Grease and Little Mermaid – but this year it’s all about Seussical for the Fall Series and most exciting is the introduction of our first Professional production with many of the area’s most talented, professional actors. What’s even more exciting is we cast several young artists to join the cast – it’s an incredible experience for them to be onstage and in the presence of working professionals. It will be like an acting intensive for them every rehearsal. I’m interested to see how they will grow as a result of this experience – they are already hugely talented kids but trust me – they will grow!
That is so exciting. At what point in your life did you decide “this is my profession” and fully commit to being a working professional?
After a year at Mansfield University studying Elementary Education (following in my parents footsteps) I had a moment when I found out that Mansfield was making big cuts to the theatre program and one of the cuts included the yearly musical. The thought of not being able to perform killed me . . . So I left. It was at this moment I really decided to push forward and pursue a passion that I had no idea where it was going to take me. I knew I was going to have tough times, I heard it about a MILLION times from my parents. But I made a decision to immerse myself into theatre. I still struggle with performing vs. behind the scenes as to which one I “like” more, and the truth is, I love it all. I love how we as artists interpret characters and story. How we show our audience what we want them to see. That fascinates me.
Along those lines…If you’re not acting, you’re directing and vice versa – what is the most rewarding to you personally?
That is a tough question because I LOVE sharing a character with an audience. But I found Directing to be more rewarding for me. Because it’s like my head explodes on the stage. And it’s a really cool feeling to see it come to life. You sit back and smile because you have an awesome cast with an amazing production team that all collaborated together to make this fully realized show. And sometimes you have no words for that but “Thank You”.
For the young actors who perform in our productions, or who decide to enroll in a class to further their education: what is the one thing you want them to get out of the experience that will benefit them in the future? What do you really want to see more of from them as well?
I want my students to walk away knowing that hard work pays off. Focus pays off. You learn so much about yourself and others as a theatre professional. I want them to learn about who they are. Regardless if you continue to pursue theatre as a profession or not, you will always remember the times you had when you were “in a show.”
As a seasoned performer who auditions a lot – AND – a working director who auditions actors a lot: What advice can you give new actors on the audition process? How should they prepare, approach and execute the audition?
To quote Billy Porter “When you get to a certain level. Everybody can sing, everybody can dance, everybody can act and EVERYBODY is cute . . . You have to find out what makes you stand out, what makes you special.” You will never be the person next to you or 10 people in front of you who you just heard belt her face off and you know you don’t sound like that. Don’t let that intimidate you! From experience being on the other side of the table, the director is looking for his/her vision of the character. You must always bring YOU. How do you prepare to audition?. . . AUDITION! You learn so much every time you go on an audition, no matter what the outcome is. Of course you should always be prepared and research the show you’re going in for. And make sure you prepare anything that is specifically asked of you.
Be honest – when you are directing someone and you offer a specific way to read a line – do you want them to just say it the way you said it while having them believe they thought of it?
Partially . . . but I want more the essence of what/how I say the line. I usually give line readings to the younger students who are not yet willing to come out and say things using their intentions.
Let’s change gears and focus on you as the actor:
What was your favorite role and where did you perform it?
My favorite role was Mendel in Fiddler on the Roof at Fulton Opera House.
What a great venue and show – Fiddler always seems to be at the top of list for many an actor. Share with us a little – If we were to see you backstage minutes before your entrance – what would we find you doing?
If it’s my first entrance in the show I am super focused and in a zone, and running through things in my head. Sometimes I start to walk around backstage physically getting into character. But once we start rolling I’m a little more relaxed backstage but overall I’m quiet and stay focused on the show that’s going on so I don’t miss a cue (which I have done before so I have learned my lesson). It happened to be while I was talking about a person who had just missed their cue . . . so Karma!
Have you ever been cast in a role where despite all your preparation – you never fully felt like you were doing your best work?
YES! I was cast as MacDuff in “MacBeth” It was COMPLETELY outside my comfort zone. But it was one of the most rewarding experiences in the end. I never felt like I connected fully to it in moments, and wish I had more time and training to fully develop what I only felt like I was skimming the surface of.
You landed the role – what comes next – character development and preparation or memorizing those lines?
UGH! I am SO BAD at memorization!! I research first. I visualize and physicalize my character and get in it’s brain while reading through and taking notes in the script. I let it develop more when I begin to be active with my scene partners. Memorization for me comes through repetition and connecting thoughts and actions in the blocking.
What was the most embarrassing thing that ever happened to you onstage?
I made up a whole verse of “Surrey With A Fringe On Top”:
“All around is all around, the cows will moo in the clover, and just when you’re thinking everything is still, oh guess what it’s not over” . . . then I forget what I said next, I was a sweaty mess and blanked out . . . but I’m sure it was brilliant, but I finished with “The frogs will hop, and the stars will . . . pop!”
That’s hilarious – terrifying I’m sure but now you probably have gotten more laughs about it. Tell us about a role you really wanted but didn’t get – what did you learn from the process?
I really wanted to be cast in the National Tour of “Wizard of Oz”. I had just played the tin man at a regional theatre and went to the tour call. I made it down to the final 3 Tin Men and they ended up casting someone who was already on tour with them. That was a moment I learned it’s sometimes “who you know”. I also learned that either of the other two guys could have played the role as well. We all had our own qualities in the character and that was a cool thing to see how slightly different each of us were. You can learn a lot from observing other actors.
What genre of performing arts just doesn’t do anything for you?
Bizarre Street Performance Art . . . I try!!! I respect them.
I’m with you on that one…Which do you prefer most: Sinking your teeth into a gritty dramatic role or an outrageously funny role? Why?
I LOVE funny roles!! Duh!! But lately I have wanted to sink my teeth into more dramatic roles just to challenge myself and see how far I can go with a role.
Tell us about your dream role – the one you haven’t performed yet.
Seymour from “Little Shop” hands down! I love that show and that character! Plus anytime three girls riff it up and sing tight harmonies, I’m in!
You heard it here folks – cast this man as Seymour fast before someone else grabs him! Chad – thanks for taking the time – we can’t wait to see what you have planned for Seussical the Musical!
Andrew has a long history with us — from his many performances at West Chester Summer Stage to local school productions and here at Limelight, too. We have watched him grow and mature over the years into a fine, talented young man and actor onstage. He’s the kind of young man who pushes himself, takes risks and keeps education as a priority in life. Given his love and commitment for theater — we thought other young performers may relate and learn from his approach. Enjoy!
Andrew – Welcome to Limelight’s “Step Into Your Spotlight” interview series. It’s hard to keep up with you — tell us what you are up to these days.
Right now, I am just getting ready for school to start again. I am president of the Choir so I have been doing things to prepare for that. It’s a big job but it’s going to be a lot of fun! I am also Vice President of the Ambassadors Club at Bishop Shanahan High School and they are very active at the beginning of the new year to welcome new students! Auditions for our musical, White Christmas, is coming up so we are all preparing for those auditions. Also, there are papal choir practices so I have been very busy!
Wow – you are busy for sure! You have a long history with West Chester Summer Stage – how old were you and what was your first production?
My first show was actually when I was five or six years old. I did Little Rascals for one year but then took a break and didn’t do it again until the summer after 5th grade.
What do you remember most about it?
I do not remember anything from my Little Rascals days but from my 5th grade year, I remember having a few little solos and loving performing. It really began my passion for theater!
And then last year you scored two lead roles in Limelight’s production of Grease – what did you do to prepare for that audition?
Well, this actually wasn’t my first time in Grease. I played Eugene in Grease at Notre Dame my freshman year so I already knew the show and all of the songs. Being in this show before definitely helped with my preparation because I knew exactly how each character could be played. I was able to just think about how I would say each line or walk into a scene as that person. I just had to add my own personal touches to it.
I remember your performance as Eugene too — three roles from the same show — that’s pretty awesome. For a young man — you keep pretty busy with performing — tell us how many shows you have done to date?
I have been in 19 shows total (Starting my 20th very soon)!
Amazing – that’s a lot of stage time. What was your favorite role and why?
My favorite role that I have played was Kenickie in Grease! Kenickie was so far from who I am, so I had to step out of my comfort zone to do this. There were some many things that he would say and do that I would never have, but it gave me the opportunity to portray that person. The character himself is so fun because he really doesn’t care what people think and just did whatever he felt like.
Clearly you are a good student of the arts – Share with your fellow performers what you do to continue learning and broadening your craft?
I take voice lessons with Kim Russell Voice Studio once a week which is truly important. Taking voice lessons really strengthens your ability as a singer and a performer, and I suggest everyone take them! I have also taken classes at Limelight to help with acting and performing. My biggest thing is just to be in as many shows as I can. I am usually in three shows per year but if I have the opportunity, I try to be in more! Working with different actors, directors, choreographers, and musical directors has taught me so much because they all have their own ideas and techniques.
Very good point — the exposure to those Directors and Choreographers during the rehearsal process is like taking performance classes in itself. So given that — what comes hardest for you: script memorization, singing, choreography, acting? Share with us what you do to work harder on those skills that don’t come as easy.
Acting has always been the hardest for me. To work harder, I go over my lines all the time in my head. Being memorized early on really helps because then I’m not as focused on what the words are, but more what I am really saying and how it should be said, as well as, how it would be said as that character.
That’s a good tip — get off the script as early as you can so that more time can be spent on further character development. Was there ever a time when you didn’t land the role you wanted despite putting in the proper preparation? How did you bounce back?
There has been a few times that I have not gotten parts that I really wanted. I always asked my directors afterwards what they thought that I needed to improve on. I took their feedback and really worked on what they had to say so that I was ready for my next audition.
Always learning — love that. What was the funniest thing that has ever happened to you during a live performance?
In Grease, a friend of mine who was playing Danny completely messed up a famous line in the song “We Go Together”. Everyone on stage just kind of looked at one another in disbelief that he really did mess up. It was so hard to not laugh on stage but we were in the middle of the song so we all tried to just keep it together. It was all we talked about during intermission though!
Can you directly link how your dedication to stage performance has helped you succeed in other areas of your life?
Stage performance has helped me build my confidence. At the beginning of High School, I was an extremely shy kid and I didn’t talk to many other students. Performing on stage and having to be up there in front of so many people helped me come out of my shell and become more confident and sociable.
What’s the one piece of advice about performing that someone gave you that you’d like to share with your fellow actors?
One thing that I always struggled with was being confident in my self and my acting choices. I wouldn’t go full out or do things that I thought could work because I was afraid it may look dumb. I realized that taking those chances, and really going for it can make your performance amazing!
Let’s change gears a second to something very special to us. You were a recipient of the prestigious West Chester Summer Stage Nick Mullin Scholarship Award that recognizes young performers who possess the same bright outlook on life and enthusiasm for the arts that Nick had — tell us about that experience?
Receiving the Nick Mullin Scholarship Award was an honor. Being a part of West Chester Summer Stage and the Fine Arts Department at Bishop Shanahan, I had heard so much about Nick and who he was. Everyone who knew Nick has so many wonderful stories of his character and passion for the arts and his name brings a smile to their face. Winning this award and being recognized for possessing similar qualities to Nick was such an amazing and humbling experience!
That’s awesome — and choosing you came easy — you have those same gifts and talents.
Tell us about this exciting little (ok maybe this once-in-a-lifetime chance) to sing for the Pope? You must be pretty excited about that, huh?
Singing for the Pope is going to be amazing! I’m so excited! There are about eight rehearsals total before the big day, and two of them are at the Kimmel Center with the Philadelphia Orchestra. That will be so fantastic! The whole day and weekend is going to be so wonderful and I’m so glad and blessed to be a part of such a momentous and historical occasion!
It really is an incredible opportunity. I think all the years you devoted to your craft has prepared you for this opportunity — so you are very deserving. High School will be wrapping up soon — do you think you will continue to perform in college and after?
I would love to continue performing. Performing is my passion and I would never want to give that up. I plan to minor in musical theater to allow myself to continue doing what I love and working on my skills!
Terrific – keep doing what you do best. We look forward to seeing your last few performances before college life. Thanks for talking with us Andrew – as they say, “Break a leg”.