I started in the Stage Stormers program as a camper. As a preteen, my foible was a lack of assurance. Presenting myself and expressing my thoughts were always a challenge. I loathed having to publicly voice any idea, especially to my adult counterparts. But, I was always creative, my imagination ran rapidly and make believe was favorite activity. My parents asked me if I wanted to try a new activity, one that would allow creative expression as well as gain confidence, a summer theater group. I was soon casted in the coveted role as Michael Darling from Peter Pan, a lofty role for a kid with no experience. I studied my script religiously; there was no chance I was appearing on stage in front of anyone with risk of embarrassment. When the lights came on and the play began, I was hooked. The feeling of being able to perform and not only make the audience laugh, but tell a story, was exactly what I need to filled the void. I loved every second of being on stage, from the raising of the lights to the final bow. I came back to Stage Stormers every year, excited for a new opportunity each summer.
I continued with Stage Stormers well into my teens and began teaching my fellow young actors and actress. As Assistant Director of Stage Stormers, I was able to be part of the journey in a different, but just a rewarding role. The beginning weeks of the program were always the same, games played to spark imagination, ice breakers to get to know our cast, and eventually- auditions for roles. Then, we would work together, the cast as a whole, to put together a wonderful performance at the end of the season. We, as an ensemble, challenged each other; through the quick months of summer, the kids were able to present something that they were proud of. Seeing the joy of accomplishment on their faces after every show was enough to understand the value of this program. The responsibility that comes with taking on a role, and knowing it in a few short months, you would get on stage and perform said role in front of a live audience, that experience is unmeasurable. Each child brought wonderful and special things to our show, but it was always the shy ones, the ones that blossomed through the program, that hold a special reminder. I was one of those kids, unsure of myself, timid, reclusive. Now, I could not think of different words to describe myself. Through the Stage Stormers program, I became confident, accountable, and ultimately, a teacher of these qualities to others. The pride I feel as a Stage Stormer is unmeasurable, and the skills I have gained through this experience have guided me through my entire life.
Let me say what a fantastic experience Stage Stormers has been for both my kids this summer. They are excited, look forward to going everyday and they talk about it non-stop. I can't say enough how it has exceeded my expectations for them this year and in particular, for my daughter. She has made an entirely new set of friends and this play has brought her and brother even closer (which I didn't think was even possible!). The experience could not have come at a better time for her as she heads into high school.
Although she likely did not know it at the time, Susan’s hard work in developing Stage Stormers lit a spark within our son that has ignited into a flame. At the age of four, our son, Ben, showed an interest in musical theater. He loved going to shows and wanted the chance to be on stage himself. Not sure how to foster this interest at such a young age, we were so fortunate to find Susan’s Stage Stormers program. True to their motto, Stage Stormers gave every child the opportunity to perform. Theresa, the director, took a chance on Ben and cast him as Augustus Gloop at four years old. He relished the opportunity and had the most amazing time performing.
That first summer, Ben fell in love with theater. From then on, theater has become an integral part of his life. Each of the next two summers, Ben returned to Stage Stormers and continued to develop as an actor. Since then he has gone on to perform in numerous productions, culminating this past winter with the role of Ralphie in A Christmas Story. We have stayed in contact with Susan through the years. It was so great Susan could come see how Ben has grown and to see how her work many years ago truly transformed his life. We will be forever grateful for her work and the opportunity she provided to Ben and other children to experience the joys of performing at a young age.-Natalie Pedersen
Speaking from a more personal point of view, my own experiences at Stage Stormers introduced me to the wonderful world of theatre and shaped me into the person I am today. Without the gift of theatre that was introduced to me by Susan, I would have missed out on so much. Theatre has truly blessed me with so many valuable friendships and worthwhile experiences. Not only that, but it has also given me an important outlet for expression, which is something every person needs. Perhaps, most importantly, it has given me the opportunity to see the world, and help others see the world, from a perspective that is decidedly not my own. Had I never been introduced to theatre, I may have never learned to respect, value, and try to understand the “other side” in the way I do now, nor encouraged others to do the same.
It is deeply important for every child to have the opportunity to forge friendships, express him or herself, and see the world from a different perspective. When I was only five years old, Susan allowed me to experience these life changing opportunities by introducing me to theatre. I sincerely hope that she will be able to bless even more children with these vital and necessary gifts.
I have known Susan Wood for the past five years as the director of both the fall and spring musicals at my daughters’ school, East Coventry Elementary. The amount of work it takes to organize such an accomplishment is nearly unfathomable to me. As a current sixth grade teacher in a neighboring school district, I know the hardships of organizing and carrying out a school event; Susan navigates these responsibilities flawlessly. Her communication with parents, school staff, and her young charges is enthusiastic, professional, and always timely. Her meticulous attention to detail eliminates confusion among students and parents; something this working mom appreciates immensely. Susan uses her own time and talents to create, construct, and carry out a performance that defies the age of its participants. Susan has more patience than any person I have ever known! Two years ago, I helped to organize the performers in a central location as audience members took their seats on the night of the performance. In spending that thirty minutes with roughly thirty elementary aged performers, I got a small glimpse of what Susan experienced every practice. To say that she can work and concentrate under the most tenuous of circumstances is an understatement.
It is my opinion that Susan would be a tremendous asset to any production team or initiative. She will make a most distinguished addition to any school lucky enough to hire her.
If I can offer any additional insight or clarifications, please do not hesitate to contact me.-Patti Kalbach
That remains my greatest takeaway from those five years: Susan gave me so much trust in my own abilities, so much freedom to play with friends and as an actor on the stage, and enough space to discover my own inclinations as I approached adolescence. She knows how to connect with young people, never babying them or making them feel inferior or incapable, but instead challenging them in a supported and exciting way. She identifies their strengths, knows how to play to those affinities, and shows kids the magic of their collective efforts when they — often, by her own guidance — put aside differences.
I have known Susan Wood for 7 years when our 6th graders started kindergarten at East Coventry. Susan was responsible for the drama club when my son, Stephen Hernandez, expressed interest in joining. It was surprising to find out that Susan ran the drama club on her own with one student helper. The drama club had many students because Susan wanted to give everyone a chance to participate in the play. The students enjoy working with her because she gives them attention and makes them feel they are part of something bigger by being part of this drama team.
My son does not play sports. This was a great opportunity for him to shine as a performer, but also be part of a team that worked together to produce a show after weeks of rehearsals. My son learned to be more outgoing and take chances on stage and was able to face his public speaking fears. The students are presented with medals after the play and this gives them a sense of accomplishment for their efforts.
Susan clearly has a passion for the arts and that is obvious when you see her manage this large student group to produce an entertaining production. Her communications with the parents make things easier for us so that we know about everything we need to support our students and to make the play successful. Producing a play is like managing a project and Susan has excelled at project management. Every detail has to be managed from rehearsals, to music, to costumes, playbills and finally performance night. My son currently goes to French Creek where the drama club is run by team of women, not just one woman. When I see this team of moms at FC, it makes me wonder how Susan was able to produce so many plays at East Coventry and come year after year to do it again. I used the word “crazy” once when I saw what she has to do to, but really it’s called passion and that is what you get with Susan.
As an assistant theatre director, I looked to Susan for guidance in creating a dynamic and engaging theatrical experience. Susan’s rehearsals were productive and exciting. In addition to blocking and rehearsing song and dance numbers, Susan spent time creating lessons to support understanding of the technical aspects of staging and theatre production. When promoted to lead theatre director, I used what I learned from Susan with my own students. Her guidance was the foundation to my students’ success and mine on stage.
Several years into the program, I was promoted to Assistant Program Director. As Susan’s assistant, I supported the distribution of program information to school districts, students, and parents. Susan created all rehearsal schedules, costume suggestion lists, and technical week documents. It was because of Susan’s excellent written and verbal communication skills, as well as being highly organized, that allowed me to effectively disseminate program information.
Finally, I attribute much of my professional success to the time I spent with Stage Stormers. At a very young, Stage Stormers gave me the opportunity to practice my instructional skills. Additionally, I learned strong communication and organization skills that I continue to uphold in my current teaching position. My time with the program encouraged creativity, something I strive for as I look for unique ways to engage my students in their learning.
I look forward to hearing of Susan’s success as she forges a new path in sharing her love of the arts with new districts and their families. Susan’s intelligence and drive will prove vital in creating a new theatrical experience. If you have any further questions, please do not hesitate to contact me.
-Ms. Theresa Rose Murphy, M.Ed.
As a parent (and a former high school theater "rat") I was delighted when first my daughter and later my son became involved with the Stage Stormers.
One of the foundational aspects of Stage Stormers was the promise that everyone who wants a part gets a part. Many after school activities stress the competitive realities of the outside world. If you are not good enough or on the fringes the message is you should stay, there.
The Stage Stormers family welcomed everyone with respect and dignity. How many kids, who normally would get a second glance in the real world, would blossom once the curtain came up! How many tremendous adults emerged from that one brief shining moment on a Stage Stormers stage. And all those other kids where there to see each other’s' magical moments occur.
These miracles occurred due to a group of dedicated, experienced, invested staff (including, for a time, my daughter) offering a well-organized professional program.
At the helm: Susan was the role model for her talented staff and it was her vision that permeated and inspired. As outsiders looking in my wife and I knew both of our kids were in good hands with Susan and her staff.
It is my fervent hope that Susan will begin another youth theater program someday. And if the experience is half as good as the one my family had, it will be enough.
After having watched Susan throughout the years I knew that my interests pertained less to being center stage and more to work behind the scenes. I asked to help her manage and direct the show and Susan was more than willing to let me have a go at it. As Stage Stormers came to an end, neither of us were ready to let go of children's theatre. At this point I had begun to explore fields of the arts as viable career choices and ultimately fell in love with cinema. I continued to assist my mentor when she began directing East Coventry Drama Club. As the programs grew in size and complexity so did both of our skills and love for the theatre.
As I write this note, as a sophomore in film school it might be important to note, in high hopes that these programs can continue to inspire kids like me to think creatively and give them the confidence to do what they love. I'm not sure I would have had the courage to live what I love if it hadn't been for the accessibility to a community acting program and all of Susan Wood's endeavors throughout my young adult life.
Stage Stormers is a part of the Owen J. Roberts School District Summer Enrichment program.
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