By Melissa Ford
Program Manager, Kathy Simon, gave me a peek into the operations of CAST, celebrating its 25th anniversary this year. As Simon began to bring me up to speed, I was dumbfounded by the magnitude of this performing arts program. Seriously, CAST isn’t just a summer theatre camp for a few talented kids; it’s a successful, ambitious small business, staging approximately 10 productions throughout the year. In the summer, there are thirty plus staff running a camp for 5th - 8th graders, with occasional guest directors, scholarship awards, and the opportunity to collaborate with professional artists.
During the school year, CAST offers speech, drama, and debate classes, allowing students to participate in 9 different plays, either as an actor or as a crew member. CAST Director, Bill McGlynn (and a participant in the first CAST program), believes in smaller productions, which in turn creates a smaller ratio of kids to director. As Simon explains, “Bill’s philosophy affords kids greater learning opportunities and the ability to undertake more significant parts in our productions.”
Yet ambitious doesn’t quite capture the scope and far-reaching impact of CAST.
At any one time, there are two or three shows in rehearsal. Summertime brings CAST campers the chance to participate in three different shows with 11 performances over a four-day period. And, when CAST members are in school, they tour District #97 grade schools, introducing younger kids to CAST, and the advantages it offers to ease the passage into middle school.
What exactly does CAST provide kids that smoothes this middle school transition?
Simon is crystal clear on the benefits: “Kids need a safe place to be and CAST offers this to kids, especially necessary during these middle school years. It provides them with a group of peers that they probably would not have met otherwise, and places them under the supervision of talented, caring professionals where they can be encouraged to explore new possibilities and try new things.” Simon explains that CAST summer camp at Percy Julian Middle School gets kids comfortable with the building and the ins and outs of everything before they progress into 6th grade.
However, the transformation extends beyond new friends and acclimating to middle school.
Simon elaborates, “At this age, kids don’t know who they are going to be. . . It happens time and time again, where you see these young, shy kids take part in the chorus, and over the three years they participate in CAST, they are transformed, totally comfortable up on the stage.” Parents agree with Simon; CAST is an invaluable “mentoring, teaching and empowering” experience for their kids. And, in the words of one OPRFH High School student, “CAST saved my life in middle school.”
Simon agrees; CAST is the catalyst for kids’ blossoming confidence in middle school.
“Every kid leaves here with more confidence; there isn’t a better thing than confidence for kids in this age group,” Simon reiterates. “Kids find a niche with CAST and when we say goodbye to our 8th graders, it’s bittersweet! And, they grow up and move onto great things at the high school.”
CAST's upcoming summer productions are just around the corner.
Before some of these confident actors, actresses, and crew members make the leap from middle school into high school, plan on attending one or more of CAST’s upcoming summer productions: Guys and Dolls, The Members of the Wedding, and You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown. Performances run July 14, 15th, 16th, and 17th. Tickets can be purchased online at www.op97.org or at the door. Please call 708-524-7848 for more information.