By Terry Dean
Staring at a lighting board for several hours might seem about as exciting as watching paint dry.
But it was actually a treat for Tina Reynolds, the director of District 97's BRAVO performing arts program. Both Brooks and Julian middle schools received the new lighting boards this year for their programs — CAST is housed at Julian. Reynolds and Bill McGlynn, her counterpart at CAST, trained last month in using the new system before turning it over to the students so they can learn how to work it for productions. The previous lighting boards were so old that they required floppy disks to work.
That's the latest change for Reynolds, who's in her ninth year overseeing BRAVO, which stands for Band, Repertoire, Art, Voice, Orchestra.
Reynolds, a northern Michigan native who moved to Oak Park in 2002, was originally a parent volunteer with BRAVO. A year later, she was offered the position of artistic director. Reynolds had a strong background in music and theater before taking the job. Running BRAVO takes up a great deal of her time. Still, she finds time to perform on her own. She sings with a Chicago caroling group each December and also with a tribute band. She doesn't act as much as she'd like but still hopes to one day perform in a Broadway show.
"I am not ready to give up performing. I still love performing," she said. "And you know the kids really respect that Ms. Reynolds can walk the talk. I'm still out there auditioning. I know what it feels like to not land the role that you really like, or how to prepare and market yourself the best as you can."
Reynolds studied music and theater at California State University-Fullerton. She was also a member of The Young Americans while in college. The renowned song and dance company teaches music education to schoolchildren worldwide. Reynolds is still a member with the troupe. She spent part of her summer in Japan with the group teaching performing arts to schoolchildren. Reynolds, though, does not speak Japanese, but says that didn't hinder working with the kids.
"I'm sure they got a kick out of Ms. Reynolds trying to speak Japanese," she said with a laugh.
There were translators there and Reynolds also picked up a word or two hear and there to communicate with the kids. The students at the end of the workshops put on their own show for their community.
"I continue to direct with them and am able to give back," she said of The Young Americans, which has been around since the 1960s.
Both of Reynolds' adult children have followed in her footsteps and are members of The Young Americans. Her daughter was with the group while she was in Japan. Her son and daughter both graduated from Oak Park and River Forest High School.
"They've been singing and dancing professionally since they were kids," Reynolds said.
She too was introduced to performing as a child. Reynolds took piano lessons when she was 5 years old. She describes herself as an overachiever. "I was in every band I could think of. I played the trumpet. I did drama, I did dance. I did community theater," she recalled.
But she decided to study pre-med in college. She had a scholarship offer but switched back to her first love just before starting her freshman year. She said joining The Young Americans, which is based in California, was a dream of hers. She became an assistant director and company manger for the troupe.
"That started my experience with organization and on the administrative side," Reynolds said.
She brought that experience to BRAVO when she became artistic director in 2003.
It was a much smaller program at the time, she recalls. They did only one production in spring back then. Now, they do seven a year at each school year, as well as shows during the summer. About 350 kids currently participate in the program, both acting and working behind the scenes. The adult staff totals eight. BRAVO, as well as CAST, are funded partially by D97 but also through their own fundraising.
Reynolds says she's been sought after by schools in Chicago to run their programs, but she can't see herself anywhere else but in Oak Park.
"It is a dream job for me," she said. "I am able to work with kids, inspire and teach. I can direct, which I love to do. It's a great job. I don't envision leaving anytime soon."