As the lights went down, the kids lit up the room.
There they were -- 12 delighted children in full voice -- cascading down the aisles of the Paramount Theatre to spread their charm through song as they set the story into motion for a stirring performance of "Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat."
To play the big-stage roles as they did for such a prestigious show is a testament to their talent. Eight of the 12 chorus members -- Kara Blasingame, Audrey Hare, Ethan Isaacson, Dan Keller, Natalie Pare, Matthew Uzarraga, Janie Voris, Zach Wilson and Jake Ziman -- are stage veterans, having cut their teeth as performers in the Fox Valley Park District's Winter Stage and Summer Stage productions.
Seeing success stories come to life like that brings a broad smile to Kyle Donahue, performing arts supervisor for the park district.
"I'm so thrilled to have a great performing arts venue like the Paramount producing fantastic production and providing youth in our community these opportunities to shine," said Donahue.
Having spent the last 10 years traveling the world as a performer, teacher and director, Donahue is now focused on enriching the local landscape for theater arts opportunities with a sizably expanded offering of programs for all ages.
"Performance opportunities are very appealing to kids and adults alike," said Donahue. "It's apparent that there is a huge desire for performing arts in our communities. People simply love to perform -- and they have a definite appreciation for culture."
So Donahue has embraced the wants and wishes of community residents, adding a dozen new programs and classes this winter and spring for everybody from the aspiring Broadway-bound to the local Mom who wants to sing and perform (when not shuttling the kids around).
And -- like the local children chosen for the chorus in Joseph -- they start young, with many of the park district's introductory drama classes accepting children at ages 5 and older.
When starting out, it's all about envisioning the possibilities and dreaming of what could be.
"Imagination and creativity," said Donahue. "Those are great traits that help you grow not only as a performer, but as a person. The ability to express yourself helps build confidence that carries over into everyday life."
For those who move past the introductory stage, Donahue has developed the new Performing Arts Academy that focuses on the artistic and professional growth or performers and musicians in park district programs, providing a high level of training at very affordable prices.
Participants can gain a hands-on, all-around education on aspects of the arts such as character development, working on monologues, improv (think "Saturday Night Live"), script writing and workshops on TV and film acting.
In the meantime -- as if Donahue wasn't busy enough -- he's preparing a cast of 84 performers ranging in age from 7 to 60 for what is sure to be a rousing performance of "Cats," which hits the Prisco Community Center stage for four shows on Jan. 13 through 15. With all its singing, dancing, fantastic makeup designs and truly unique costumes, it's shaping up as another stellar Winter Stage performance.
"We have a big stage here (at Prisco)," said Donahue, "and we plan to use it -- a lot!"
And, for many, it often leads to an even bigger stage.
• Jeff Long is the public relations manager for the Fox Valley Park District. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org