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updated: 5/9/2012 1:06 PM

On stage in Elgin again: Nothing Special Productions

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  • From left, Ken McMullen, Andy Bero, Colleen Heffernan, Jess Yeska, and Chris Cherry rehearse for A Night of Music and Theater, a fundraiser show by Nothing Special Productions at the Elgin Art Showcase.

    From left, Ken McMullen, Andy Bero, Colleen Heffernan, Jess Yeska, and Chris Cherry rehearse for A Night of Music and Theater, a fundraiser show by Nothing Special Productions at the Elgin Art Showcase.
    Courtesy of Dean Cardiff

By Jamie Greco
Daily Herald correspondent

As children, they spent countless hours onstage learning lines and performing in youth theater.

They grew up and moved on; some to larger cities, some to non-acting careers.

But they never forgot the joy of performing together.

This weekend, former Fox Valley Youth Theatre colleagues will be reunited when Nothing Special Productions returns to Elgin.

The theater troupe will present an evening of music, dramatic monologues, and original content to help underwrite the cost of doing business in Chicago.

A Night of Music and Theater is set for 7:30 p.m. Saturday, May 12, at the Elgin Art Showcase, 164 Division St., eighth floor, Elgin. Tickets are $25.

Although the show's main purpose is fundraising, it also represents a reunion of a dozen friends who met and bonded during their time with Elgin's Fox Valley Youth Theatre Company and have volunteered their talent to support their childhood friends.

Considering the nature of post-high school friendships, which can wither once young people begin their lives as adults, the group has remained remarkably close. "Performing is a different kind of animal and you get to know people on a different level," said Elgin native and performer Colleen Heffernan. "The social networking helps, but we've been able to enjoy strong friendships that would exist even without the ease of online communication."

Saturday's show saw its beginnings in those friendships, according to Nothing Special Production member and founder, Nick Cardiff.

"I believe (our former colleagues) had the idea first a couple of years ago," Cardiff said. "They said, 'Hey if you ever need any help. Let us know.' So we went to them and before I knew it they had a stage manager and a production manager and all the performers and all the songs."

The music will be an eclectic mix of rock, pop, and Broadway, according to Heffernan. "The cool thing about putting this together was that we all got to think of what we all liked to do and make it work together," she said.

"There's a lot of contemporary and oldies pop songs because everyone has seen us so many times we wanted to let them see us do something they'd never seen us do," added singer Andy Bero.

Bero comes to the show, not only as a friend, but also as a seasoned professional.

"After college I moved to New York City with my agent," Bero said. "I did two Broadway tours; one was 'Wonderful Town' and the other was 'Jesus Christ Superstar.' I worked a Cirque du Soleil and I did a show in Vegas and Atlantic City and I was the lead singer for two cruise ships for Celebrity cruise lines."

Recently, Bero returned to the area and to the FVYTC as a director and mentor.

"Theater down on a local level has a gross mass appeal, which is really great. Smaller companies are where great art is done."

Bero's return to the area was part of the fuel that lit the reunion performance.

"Jess (Yeska) and Chris (Cherry) and Andy and I were talking about how we missed performing together with Andy moving to New York City and out touring and now he's home," said Heffernan, who works as a school social worker in DeKalb. "We had been looking for a reason to get back onstage. We decided putting on a fundraiser would be, not only a great way to get a chance to perform again, but to raise some money for some friends and help them expand their impact on the Chicago theater scene."

NSP moved from Elgin to Chicago in 2005 to take advantage of the thriving theater community, according to Cardiff.

"We moved to Chicago because Chicago is where we always wanted to go. Chicago is a place of complete collaboration, the theater community is vast and it's a really fun place to be a part of," he said. "As much as Elgin is that as well, in Chicago there are more opportunities, spaces and the pool of professional talent are just humongous."

Conversely, so is the cost of doing business in the big city. "Every aspect of it is expensive. We are lucky because we are able to give a small stipend to actors because a lot of actors in Chicago work for free," Cardiff said.

A step forward in the course of NSP's journey has put a greater strain on the company's financial situation.

"This is going to be our first production that is eligible for the Jeff Awards and so it has to be a longer run," Cardiff explained. "You have to have 18 or more performances."

The production, "Savage Land" by Josh Nordmark, is scheduled to open in August at the Den Theater in Wicker Park.

"(Nordmark) is a Chicago playwright and actor and we have been going after producing shows written by Chicago area playwrights," Cardiff said.

As NSP moves forward in Chicago, they continue to return to perform in Elgin on a regular basis, participating in Elgin's Walkabout theater event and presenting theater workshops at local elementary schools.

Cardiff hopes to see more old friends on Saturday, especially the sponsors of the FVYTC, many of which are families whose parents volunteered and supported the organization.

"Ever since I was 13 and started with (Children's Theatre of Elgin) and FV, they were my mentors those were the people I drew inspiration from," he said. "That's where we started. I've always respected them."

As for the performers who are giving their time and talent for friendship's sake, Cardiff is grateful and touched.

"It's very flattering that they were willing to volunteer not only their talent but their time to help us out with the production," he said.

Their friends and colleagues return the love.

"Nick Cardiff and Brian Rohde are artists that came out of FVYTC," Bero said. "Any way we can help them further their theater company so they can get better space, and hire actors and write and perform, that's something I'm willing to donate any of my time to."

Other cast members include Jennie Steljes of Elgin, Kevin Goss of Lake in the Hills, Erin Heffernan of Naperville (originally from Elgin), and accompanists Brian Davenport of Chicago and Ken McMullen of Palatine. Catie Early of Elgin is stage manager.

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