Thursday, November 27, 2008

Community News - Delaware Childrens Theatre

An aspiring singer at her first audition -- aged 6 -- had patiently waited her turn among the gaggle of young auditionees: some silent and apprehensive, some chatty and effusive, a few with that deer-in-headlights glare and clinging to a parent's hand.

Her name was called. With tentative steps, she made her way on stage.

"Mrs. Swajeski,” came a tiny, hesitant voice, “you're staring at me. I'm nervous.”

“Honey, what about if I turn my back to you? Would you feel more comfortable?”

A little nod of the head. “That would be good.”

Mrs. Swajeski turned her chair around, the other committee members followed suit, and the little girl sang like an angel.

“Honey,” exclaimed Swajeski, “that was absolutely breathtaking. Now, what if I turned around and you sing that song exactly the same way?”

“Alright. I feel better now.”

No one in the state has inspired more youthful actors, singers and dancers than Delaware Children's Theatre's own Marie Swajeski.

“We need to make that first audition experience uplifting,” she explains. “They need not to be terrifying.”

A testament to that philosophy, Swajeski and her volunteer staff see parents who acted as pre-teens on stage bringing their own children to experience the thrill of live theatre.

“Each production is woven with it's own particular spirit," she says. "It's not simply the 'art' of the performance. We teach friendship, discipline, commitment, pride, teamwork and life skills. We create warm memories for all those involved, no matter if they are on stage or crew. These experiences stay in their lives.”

It's true. I still remember lines from my first show at the Wilmington Drama League in 1957.

What is now DCT began more than three decades ago when Swajeski directed a touring group of children in "Peter Pan" with the then-Junior Division of the Wilmington Opera Society. In 1973, she founded Delaware Children's Theatre. Ten years later, The New Century Club became available. The building had fallen into disrepair and needed, well, everything.

Says Swajeski, “the greatest joy for me in this entire journey was to take our touring group into our own family theatre home.”

The mission of DCT was clear and remains unchanged, says Swajeski, and it has never been "kiddie theatre."

"Our shows must appeal to adults for they are the ones that drive their children to see us," she says. "Children in our productions yearly deserve the same high standards as adult theatre. That is our goal. Children play child parts. Adults play adult parts. And the child actors watch the adults perform and learn from them.”

The paint on the walls is a bit faded in this 145-year-old Victorian style edifice, now listed on the Register of National Historic Places, but the love and nurturing shine brilliantly, leading one child to comment, "Wow. This place is neat. How did you get a theatre in your house!”

Unlike most performing arts organizations, DCT relies mainly on tickets for operating costs. The price of $10.00 has not been raised in years.

Recently, three graduates of the theatre came back for a fundraiser. Tony award winner Johnny Gallagher (who played Tom Sawyer several times) entertained with friends Seth Kirschner and Adam Wahlberg. Kirschner is on TV consistently and Wahlberg does much NY professional work.

The constant stream of children wishing to audition is never a problem. What is, however, is the new pharmacy being built across the street which will rob the DCT of valuable parking. Committed long term corporate support is a holy grail that has yet to be unearthed. A building this old needs constant TLC.

Oops. I almost forgot. Swajeski said if I failed to acknowledge her faithful volunteers, she would visit her props room, retrieve the broom of the Wicked Witch of the West and "get after me."

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